A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of the pramanas according to madhava mukunda: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourth part in the series called the “the nimbarka school of philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 4 - The Pramāṇas according to Mādhava Mukunda

The followers of Nimbārka admit only three (perception, inference and testimony) out of the following eight pramāṇas, viz.

  1. perception (pratyakṣa),
  2. inference (anumāna),
  3. similarity (upamāna),
  4. scriptural testimony (śabda),
  5. implication (arthāpatti),
  6. non-perception (anupalabdhi),
  7. inclusion of the lower within the higher as of ten within a hundred (sambhava),
  8. and tradition (aitihya).

Perception is of two kinds, external and internal. The external perception is of five kinds according to the five cognitive senses. The mental perception called also the internal perception is of two kinds, ordinary (laukika) and transcendent (alaukika). The perception of pleasure and pain is a case of ordinary internal perception, whereas the perception of the nature of self, God and their qualities is a case of transcendent internal perception. This transcendent internal perception is again of two kinds, that which flashes forth through the meditation of an entity and that which comes out of meditation on the essence of a scriptural text. The scriptural reference that the ultimate truth cannot be perceived by the mind means either that the ultimate truth in its entirety cannot be perceived by the mind or that unless the mind is duly trained by a teacher or by the formation of right tendencies it cannot have a glimpse of the transcendent realities.

Knowledge is a beginningless, eternal and all-pervasive characteristic of individual selves. But in our state of bondage this knowledge is like the rays of a lamp in a closed place, in a state of contraction. Just as the rays of a lamp enclosed within a jug may go out through the hole into the room and straight through the door of the room and flood with light some object outside, so the knowledge in each individual may by the modification of the mind reach the senses and again through their modification reach the object and, having flood-lit it, may illuminate both the object and the knowledge. The ajñāna (ignorance) that ceases with the knowledge of an object is the partial cessation of a state of contraction leading to the flashing of knowledge. What is meant by the phrase “knowledge has an object” is that knowledge takes a particular form and illuminates it.

The objects remain as they are, but they are manifested through their association with knowledge and remain unmanifested without it. In the case of internal perception the operation of the senses is not required, and so pleasure and pain are directly perceived by the mind. In self-consciousness or the perception of the self, the self being itself self-luminous, the mental directions to the self remove the state of contraction and reveal the nature of the self. So God can be realized through His grace and the removal of obstruction through the meditative condition of the mind[1].

In inference the knowledge of the existence of the hetu (reason) in the minor (pakṣa) having a concomitance (vyāpti) with the pro-bandum (sādhya), otherwise called parāmarśa (vahni-vyāpya-dhūmavān ayam evaṃ-rūpaḥ), is regarded as the inferential process (anumāna) and from it comes the inference (e.g. “the hill is fiery”).

Two kinds of inference, i.e.

  1. for the conviction of one’s own self (svārthānumāna)
  2. and for convincing others (parārthānumāna),

are admitted here; and in the latter case only three propositions (the thesis, pratijñā, the reason, hetu, and the instance, udāhoraṇa) are regarded as necessary.

Three kinds of inference are admitted, namely

  1. kevalā-nvayi (argument from only positive instances, where negative instances are not available),
  2. kevala-vyatireki (argument from purely negative instances, where positive instances are not available),
  3. and anvaya-vyatireki (argument from both sets of positive and negative instances).

In addition to the well-known concomitance (vyāpti) arising from the above three ways, scriptural assertions are also regarded as cases of concomitance. Thus there is a scriptural passage to the following effect: The self is indestructible and it is never divested of its essential qualities (avināśī vā are ātma an-ucchitti-dharmā), and this is regarded as a vyāpti or concomitance, from which one may infer the indestructibility of the soul like the Brahman.[2] There are no other specially interesting features in the Nimbārka doctrine of inference.

Knowledge of similarity is regarded as being due to a separate pramāṇa called upamāna. Such a comprehension of similarity (sādrśya) may be due to perception or through a scriptural assertion of similarity. Thus a man may perceive the similarity of the face to the moon or he may learn from the scriptures that the self and God are similar in nature and thus comprehend such similarity. This may be included within the proposition of instance or illustration in an inference (upamānasya dṛṣṭānta-mātrā-ika-vigraha-tvenā'numānā-vayave udāharaṇe antarbhāvaḥ. Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra, p. 254).

That from which there is a communication of the negation or non-existence of anything is regarded as the pramāṇa or anupalabdhi.

It is of four kinds:

  1. firstly, the negation that precedes a production, called prāg-abhāva;
  2. secondly, the negation of one entity in another, i.e. the negation as “otherness,” called anyonyā-bhāva;
  3. thirdly, the negation as the destruction of an entity, called dhvaṃ-sā-bhāva ;
  4. fourthly, the negation of an entity in all times (kālatraye’pi nasti’ti pratīti-viṣayaḥ atyantā-bhāvaḥ).

But it is unnecessary to admit abhāva or anupalabdhi as a separate pramāṇa, for according to the Nimbārkas negation is not admitted as a separate category. The perception of negation is nothing but the perception of the locus of the object of negation as unassociated with it. The negation-precedent (prāg-abhāva) of a jug is nothing but the lump of clay; the negation of destruction of a jug is nothing but the broken fragments of a jug; the negation of otherness (anyonyā-bhāva) is the entity that is perceived as the other of an another, and the negation existent in all times is nothing but the locus of a negation. Thus the pramāṇa of negation may best be included with perception. The pramāṇa of implication may well be taken as a species of inference. The pramāṇa of sambhava may well be regarded as a deductive piece of reasoning.

The Nimbārkas admit the self-validity of the pramāṇas (svataḥ-prāmāṇya) in the manner of the Śaṅkarites. Self-validity (svatastva) is defined as the fact that in the absence of any defect an assemblage forming the data of cognition produces a cognition that represents its nature as it is (doṣā-bhāvatve yāvat-svā-śraya-bhūta-pramā-grāhaka-sāmagrī-mātra-grāhyatvam)[3]. Just as the eye when it perceives a coloured object perceives also the colours and forms associated with it, so it takes with the cognition of an object also the validity of such a cognition.

The nature of God can, however, be expressed only by the scriptural texts, as the signifying powers of these texts directly originate from God. Indeed, all the powers of individual minds also are derived from God, but they cannot signify Him as they are tainted by the imperfections of the human mind. The Mīm-āmsists are wrong to think that the import of all parts of the Vedas consists in enjoining the performance of the Vedic duties, for the results of all deeds ultimately produce a desire for knowing Brahman and through it produce the fitness for the attainment of emancipation. Thus considered from this point of view the goal of the performance of all duties is the attainment of emancipation[4].

There cannot be any scope for the performance of duties for one who has realized the Brahman, for that is the ultimate fruit of all actions and the wise man has nothing else to attain by the performance of actions. Just as though different kinds of seeds may be sown, yet if there is no rain these different kinds of seeds cannot produce the different kinds of trees, so the actions by themselves cannot produce the fruits independently. It is through God’s grace that actions can produce their specific fruits. So though the obligatory duties are helpful in purifying the mind and in producing a desire for true knowledge, they cannot by themselves be regarded as the ultimate end, which consists in the production of a desire for true knowledge and the ultimate union with God.

Footnotes and references:


Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra, pp. 203-206.


Ibid. p. 210.


Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra, p. 253.


Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra, pp. 279-280.

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