A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of venkatanatha’s treatment of pramana: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the seventh part in the series called the “philosophy of the ramanuja school of thought”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 7 - Veṅkaṭanātha’s treatment of pramāṇa

As the nihilistic Buddhists (śūnya-vādī or mādhyamika) are supposed to deny the valid existence of any fact or proposition, so the Śaṅkarites also may be supposed to suspend their judgment on all such questions. In the preliminary portions of his Khaṇḍana-khaṇḍa-khādya, in answer to the question whether all discussions (kathā) must presuppose the previous admission of validity and invalidity as really referring to facts and propositions, Śrīharṣa says that no such admission is indispensable; for a discussion can be conducted by the mutual agreement of the contending persons to respect certain principles of reality or unreality as decided by the referee (madhyastha) of the debate, without entering into the question of their ultimate validity. Even if validity or invalidity of certain principles, facts, or propositions, were admitted, then also the mutual agreement of the contending persons to these or other principles, as ruled by the referee, would be an indispensable preliminary to all discussions[1].

As against these views Veṅkaṭanātha, the best-reputed philosopher of the Rāmānuja school, seeks to determine the necessity of the admission of validity (prāmāṇya) or invalidity (a-prāmāṇya) as naturally belonging to certain proportions or facts, as a preliminary to our quest of truth or objective and knowable facts. If the distinction of valid and invalid propositions is not admitted, then neither can any thesis be established, nor can practical affairs run on. But, though in this way the distinction between valid and invalid propositions has to be admitted on the basis of its general acceptance by people at large, yet their real nature has still to be examined. Those who deny such a distinction can have four alternative views, viz. that all propositions are valid, that all propositions are invalid, that all propositions mutually contradict one another, or that all propositions are doubtful. If all propositions are valid, then the negation of such a proposition is also valid, which is self-contradictory; if they are all invalid, then even such a proposition is invalid and hence no invalidity can be asserted.

As to the third alternative, it may be pointed out that invalid propositions can never contradict the valid ones. If one valid proposition restricts the sphere of another valid proposition, this does not mean contradiction. A valid proposition has not to depend on other propositions for making its validity realized; for a valid proposition guarantees its own validity. Lastly, if you doubt everything, at least you do not doubt that you doubt; so then you are not consistent in saying that you doubt everything; for at least in one point you are certain, viz. that you doubt everything[2]. Thus it has to be admitted that there are two classes of propositions, valid and invalid. But, though the general distinction between valid and invalid propositions be admitted, yet proper inquiry, investigation, or examination, is justified in attempting to determine whether any particular proposition is valid or invalid. That only is called a pramāṇa which leads to valid knowledge.[3]

In the case of perception, for example, those which would lead to valid knowledge would be defectless eyes, mind-contact as attention, proper proximity of the object, etc., and these would jointly constitute pramāṇa. But in the case of testimony it is the faultlessness of the speaker that constitutes the validity of the knowledge. The scriptures are valid because they have been uttered by God, Who has the right knowledge of things. The validity of the Vedas is not guaranteed by absence of defect in our instruments of knowledge. Whatever that may be, the ultimate determination of pramāṇa is through pramā, or right knowledge. That by which one can have right knowledge is pramāṇa. Vedas are valid, because they are uttered by God, Who has right knowledge. So it is the rightness of knowledge that ultimately determines the validity of pramāṇa[4].

Vātsya Śrīnivāsa, a successor of Veṅkaṭanātha of the Rāmānuja school, defines pramāṇa as the most efficient instrument amongst a collocation of causes forming the immediate, invariable and unconditional antecedents of any right knowledge (pramā). Thus, in the case of perception, for example, the visual organ is a pramāṇa which leads to right visual knowledge, through its intermediary active operation (avāntara-vyāpāra) —the sense-contact of the eye with its objects[5]. Jayanta, the celebrated Nyāya writer, had, however, expressed a different view on the point in his Nyāya-mañjarī. He held that no member in a collocation of causes producing the effect could be considered to be more efficient or important than the other members. The efficiency (atiśaya) of the causal instruments means their power of producing the effect, and that power belongs to all the members jointly in the collocation of causes; so it is the entire collocation of causes producing right knowledge that is to be admitted as its instrument or pramāṇa[6]. Even subject and object cannot be regarded as more important; for they manifest themselves only through the collocating causes producing the desired relation between the subject and the object[7]. With Nyāya this collocation of causes consists of ideational and non-ideational (bvdhābodha-svabhāva) factors[8].

If the view of the Vedānta-paribhāṣā is to be accepted, then the Śaṅkarite view also is very much like the Rāmānuja view on this point; for both Dharmarājādhvarīndra and Rāmakṛṣṇa agree in defining pramāṇa as the instrument of right knowledge. In the case of visual perception or the like the visual or the other sense organs are regarded as pramāṇa ; and the sense-contact is regarded as the operation of this instrument.

The difference between the Nyāya view and the Rāmānuja view consists in this, that, while the Nyāya gives equal importance to all members of the collocation, the Rāmānuja view distinguishes that only as the instrumental cause which is directly associated with the active operation (vyāpāra). Even the Śaṅkarites agree with such a productive view of knowledge; for, though they believe consciousness to be eternal and unproduced, yet they also believe the states of consciousness (vṛtti-jñāna) to be capable of being produced. Both the Rāmānuja and the Śaṅkara beliefs accept the productive view of knowledge in common with the Nyāya view, because with both of them there is the objective world standing outside the subject, and perceptual knowledge is produced by the sense-organs when they are in operative contact with the external objects. A distinction, however, is made in the Rāmānuja school between kāraṇa (cause) and karaṇa (important instrument), and that cause which is directly and intimately associated with certain operations leading to the production of the effect is called a karaṇa[9]. It is for this reason that, though the Rāmānuja view may agree regarding the sāmagrī, or collocation as causes, in some sense it regards only the sense-organ as the chief instrument; the others are accessories or otherwise helpful to production.

There are Buddhists also who believe that it is the joint collocation of mental and extra-mental factors of the preceding moment which produce knowledge and external events of the later moment; but they consider the mental factors to be directly producing knowledge, whereas the extra-mental or external objects are mere accessories or exciting agents. Knowledge on this view is determined a priori from within, though the influence of the external objects is not denied. With reference to the operation of causality in the external world, they believe that, though the mental elements of the present moment influence them as accessories, immediate causal operation is to be sought among the external objects themselves. The mental and extra-mental elements of the preceding moment jointly determine every phenomenon of the later moment in the world, whether mental or physical; but in the determination of the occurrence of knowledge, the mental factors predominate, and the external factors are accessories. In the determination of external phenomena mental elements are accessories and the external causes are immediate instruments. Thus, in the production of knowledge, though the specific external objects may be regarded as accessory causes, their direct and immediate determinants are mental elements[10].

The idealistic Buddhists, the vijñāna-vādins, who do not distinguish between ideas and their objects, consider that it is the formless ideas that assume different forms as “blue,” “red,” etc.; for they do not believe in any external objects other than these ideas, and so it is these ideas in diverse forms and not the sense-organs or other collocations which are called pramāṇas. No distinction is here made between pramāṇa and pramāṇa-phala or the result of the process of pramāṇa[11]. They, however, fail to explain the difference that exists between the awareness and its object.

The Mīmāṃsaka school of Kumārila thinks that, following the soul-sense-mind-object contact, there is a process or an act (jñāna-vyāpāra) which, though not directly perceived, has to be accepted as an operation which immediately leads to the manifestation of objects of knowledge (artha-dṛṣṭatā or viṣaya-prakāśatā). It is this unperceived, but logically inferred, act of knowledge or jñāna-vyāpāra that is called pramāṇa[12]. Jayanta, of course, would not tolerate such an unperceived operation or act of knowledge; for, according to Nyāya, the only kind of action that is accepted is the molecular motion or vibration (parispanda or calana) produced by a collocation of causes (kāraka-cakra)[13].

The Jains, however, repudiate the idea of the combined causality of the collocation, or of any particular individual cause such as any sense-organ, or any kind of sense-contact with reference to sense-knowledge, or of any other kind of knowledge. Thus Prabhācandra contends in his Prameya-kamala-mārtaṇḍa that none of the so-called individual causes or collocations of causes can lead to the production of knowledge. For knowledge is wholly independent and self-determined in leading us to our desired objects or keeping us away from undesirable objects, and in no sense can we attribute it to the causal operation of the sense-organs or collocations of sense-organs and other entities. Thus knowledge (jñāna) should itself be regarded as pramāṇa, leading us to our desired objects[14].

The whole point in these divergent views regarding pramāṇas consists in the determination of the nature of the relation of the sense-organs, the objects and other accessory circumstances to the rise of knowledge. As we have seen, knowledge is in the Rāmānuja view regarded as the product of the operation of diverse causal entities, among which in the case of sense-perception the sense-organs play the most important, direct and immediate part. Both the Jains and the idealistic Buddhists (though they have important and most radical differences among themselves) agree in holding the view of self-determination of knowledge independent of the sense-organs or the operation of objective entities which become the objects of knowledge and are revealed by it.

Footnotes and references:


na ca pramāṇādīnāṃ sattā’pi ittḥam eva tābḥyām aṅgīkartum ucitā; tādṛia-vyavahāra-niyama-mātreṇaiva katḥā-pravṛtty-upapatteḥ. pramāṇādi-sattām ab-ḥyupetyā’pi tatḥā-vyavaḥāra-niyama-vyatireke kathā-pravṛttiṃ vinā tattva-nirṇayasya jayasya vā abḥilaṣitasya kathakayor aparyavasānāt, etc.
p. 35.


This remark naturally reminds one of Descartes

sarvaṃ sandigdham iti te nipuṇasyāsti niścayaḥ,
saṃśayaś ca na sandigdhaḥ sandigdhādvaita-vādinaḥ.

Nyāya-pariśuddhi. p. 34. Chowkhamba s.s.


A distinction is here made between karana-prāmāṇya and āśraya-pramāṇya

(pramāśrayasya īśvarasya prāmāṇyam aṅgīkṛtam).

Nyāya-sāra commentary on Nyāya-pariśuddhi by Śrīnivāsa, p. 35.


karaṇa-prāmāṇyasya āśraya-prāmāṇyasya ca jñāna-prāmāṇyā-dhīna-jñāna-tvāt tad ubḥaya-prāmāṇya-siddhy-artham api jñāna-prāmāṇyam eva vicāranīyam.
p. 35.


pramā-karaṇaṃ pramāṇam ity uktam ācāryaiḥ siddhānta-sāre pramo-tpādaka-sāmagrī-madhye yad atiśayena pramā-guṇakaṃ tat tasyāḥ kāraṇam ; atiśayaś ca vyāpāraḥ, yad dhi yad janayitvaiva yadjanayet tat tatra tasyāvāntara-vyāpāraḥ. sākṣātkāri-pramāyā indriyam kāraṇam indriyā-rtha-saṃyogo ’vāntara-vyāpāraḥ.
     Rāmānuja, Siddhānta-saṃgraha. Govt. Oriental MS. No. 4988.


sa ca sāmagry-antar-gatasya na kasyacid ekasya kārakasya kathayituṃ pārycte, sāmagryās tu so’tiśayaḥ suvacaḥ sannihitā cet sāmagrī sampannam eva phalam iti.
, p. 13.


sākalya-prasāda-labdha-pramiti-sambandha-nibandhanaḥ pramātṛ-pramey-ayor mukhya-svarūpa-lābhaḥ.
p. 14.


bodhā-bodha-svabhāvā sāmagrī pramāṇam.
     Nyāya-mañjarī, p. 15.


tat-kāraṇānāṃ madhye yad atiśayena kāryotpādakaṃ tat karaṇam.
     Rāmānuja-siddhānta-saṃgraha. Govt. Oriental MS. No. 4988.


jñāna-janmani jñānam upādāna-kāraṇam arthaḥ sahakāri-kāraṇam artha-janmam ca artha upādāna-kāraṇaṃ jñānaṃ sahakāri-kāraṇam.
p. 15.

The objection against this view as raised by Jayanta is this, that, if both mental and physical entities and events are determined by the joint operation of mental-physical entities of the preceding moments, we ask what determines the fact that one is mental and the other physical, that one is perceiver and the other perceived.


nirākārasya bodha-rūpasya nīla-pītādy-aneka-viṣaya-sādhāraṇatvād jana-katvasya ca cakṣur-ādāv api bhāvenā’tiprasaṅgāt tad-ākāratva-kṛtam eva jñāna-karma-nyyamam avagacchantaḥ sākāra-vijñānaṃ pramāṇam. . . arthas tu sākāra-jñāna-vādino na samasty eva.
     Ibid. p. 16.


nānyathā hy artha-sadbḥāvo dṛṣṭaḥ sann upapadyate
jñānaṃ cennetyataḥ paścāt pramāṇam upajāyate.
     Śloka-vārttika, Śūṇya-vāda,

Jayanta also says

phalānumeyo jñāna-vyāpāro jñānādi-śabda-vācyaḥ pramāṇam.
p. 17.


tasmāt kāraka-cakreṇa calatā janyate phalam,
na punas calanād anyo vyāpāra upalabhyate.
p. 20.


tato’nya-nirapekṣatayā svārtha-pariccḥinnaṃ sādḥakatamatvāt jñānam eva pramāṇam.
p. 5.

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