A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of pramanas (ways of valid knowledge): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “a general review of the philosophy of madhva”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - Pramānas (ways of valid knowledge)

Pramāṇa is defined as that which makes an object of knowledge cognizable as it is in itself (yathārthaṃ pramāṇam)[1]. The function of pramāṇa consists both in making an entity object of knowledge through the production of knowledge (jñāna-jananad vāva jñeyatā-saṃpādakatvena), either directly (sākṣāt) or indirectly (asākṣāt)[2].

There are two functions in a pramāṇa, viz.

  1. to render an entity an object of knowledge (jñeya-viṣayīkaraṇa) and
  2. to make it cognizable (jñeyatā-saṃpādana)[2].

So far as the function of making an entity an object of knowledge is concerned, all pramāṇas directly perform it; it is only with reference to the second function that there is the distinction between the two kinds of pramāṇas, kevala and anu, such that it is only the former that performs it directly and only the latter that performs it indirectly (paraṃparā-krama)[3]. These two functions also distinguish a pramāṇa from the pramātā (“subject”) and the prameya (“object”), since neither the subject nor the object can be called the instrumental causes of knowledge, though they may in some sense be admitted as causes, and they do not cause an entity to be an object of knowledge either. Our knowledge does not in any way modify an object of knowledge, but an entity becomes known when knowledge of it is produced. Truth, by which is understood exact agreement of knowledge with its object, belongs properly to knowledge alone (jñānasyaiva mukhyato yāthārthyam). The instruments of knowledge can be called true (yathārtha) only in an indirect manner, on the ground of their producing true knowledge (yathārtha-jñāna-janaka yathārtha)[4].

But yet the definition properly applies to the instruments as well, since they are also yathārtha in the sense that they are also directed to the object, just as knowledge of it is. So far as they are directed towards the right object of which we have right knowledge, their scope of activity is in agreement with the scope or extent of the object of knowledge. So it is clear that pramāṇa is twofold: pramāṇa as true knowledge (kevala pramāṇa) and pramāṇa as instrument (sādhana) of knowledge (anu pramāṇa). This kevala pramāṇa is again twofold, as consciousness (caitanya) and as states (vṛtti). This consciousness is described by Jaya-tīrtha as superior, middling and inferior (uttama-madhyamādhama), as right, mixed, and wrong; the vṛtti is also threefold, as perception, inference, and scriptures (āgama). The anu pramāṇa also is threefold, as perception, inference and scriptures. A question arises, whether the term pramāṇa could be applied to any right knowledge which happens to be right only by accident (kākatālīya) and not attained by the proper process of right knowledge. Thus, for example, by a mere guess one might say that there are five shillings in one’s friend’s pocket, and this knowledge might really agree with the fact that one’s friend has five shillings in his pocket; but, though this knowledge is right, it cannot be called pramāṇa ; for this is not due to the speaker’s own certain knowledge, since he had only guessed, which is only a form of doubt (vaktur jñānasya saṃśayatvena aprasaṅgāt)[5]. This also applies to the case where one makes an inference on the basis of a misperceived hetu, e.g., the inference of fire from steam or vapour mistaken for smoke.

The value of this definition of pramāṇa as agreement with objects of knowledge (yathārtha) is to be found in the fact that it includes memory (smṛti) of previous valid experience as valid, whereas most of the other systems of Indian philosophy are disposed so to form their definition as purposely to exclude the right of memory to be counted as pramāṇa[6]. Śālikaṇātha’s argument, as given in his Prakaraṇa-pañcikā, on the rejection of memory from the definition of pramāṇa is based on the fact that memory is knowledge produced only by the impressions of previous knowledge (pūrva-vijñāna-saṃskāra-mātrajaṃ jñānam); as such, it depends only on previous knowledge and necessarily refers to past experience, and cannot therefore refer independently to the ascertainment of the nature of objects[7]. He excludes recognition (pratya-bhijñā) from memory, as recognition includes in its data of origin direct sense contact; and he also excludes the case of a series of perceptions of the same object (dhārā-vāhika jñāna); for though it involves memory, it also involves direct sense contact, but the exclusion of memory from the definition of pramāṇa applies only to pure memory, unasseciated with sense contact. The idea is that that which depends on or is produced only by previous knowledge does not directly contribute to our knowledge and is hence not pramāṇa.

The reason why Jaya-tīrtha urges the inclusion of memory is that memory may also agree with an object of knowledge and hence may rightly be called pramāṇa. It may be that, while I am remembering an object, it may not still be there or it may have ceased to exist, but that does not affect the validity of memory as pramāṇa, since the object did exist at the time of previous experience referred to by memory, though it may not be existing at the time when the memory is produced. If it is argued that, since the object is not in the same condition at the time of memory as it was at the time of experience, memory is not valid, in that case all knowledge about past and future by inference or scriptures would be invalid, since the past and future events inferred might not exist at the time of experience. If it is argued that the object of previous knowledge changes its state and so cannot in its entirety be referred to as the object of memory, then that destroys the validity of all pramāṇas ; for nothing can be made an object of all the pramāṇas in its entirety. Also it cannot be objected that, if the thing does not change its state, then memory should grasp it as an entity which has not changed its state. This is not valid either; for memory does not grasp an object as if it had not changed its state, but as “it was so at that time” (tadāsan tadṛśa iti). Memory is absolutely indifferent with regard to the question whether an object has changed its state or not. Since memory agrees with real objective facts it has to be considered valid, and it is the special feature of the present definition that it includes memory as a valid definition, which is not done in other systems. The validity of memory as a pramāṇa is proved by the fact that people resort to it as valid knowledge in all their dealings, and only right knowledge is referred to by men (loka-vyavahāra). There is no way of establishing the validity of the pramāṇas of perception, etc., except the ultimate testimony of universal human experience[8].

Moreover, even the validity of the sacred writings of Manu is based on the remembered purport of the Vedas, and thence they are called smṛti[9]. Again, the argument that memory has no validity because it does not bring us any fruit (niṣphalā) is not right; for the validity depends on correctness of correspondence and not on fruitfulness. Want of validity (aprāmāṇya) is made evident through the defect of the organs or the resulting contradiction (bādhakapratyaya). It may also be noted that memory is not absolutely fruitless; thus the memory of happy things is pleasant and strengthens the root impressions also (saṃskāra-patand). Again, it is argued that that alone could be called pramāṇa which involves the knowledge of something new, and that therefore memory, which does not involve new knowledge, cannot be counted as pramāṇa. If it is required that an object of knowledge should be pramāṇa, then the eternal entities about which there cannot be any new knowledge cannot be the objects of pramāṇa. If the requirement of new knowledge is not considered to refer to objects of knowledge, but only to the method or process of knowledge, then the knowledge involved in continuous perception of an object (dhārāvāhika jñāna) could not be considered as pramāṇa. The Buddhists might, of course, answer that each new moment a new object is produced which is perceived; the Sāṃkhya might hold that at each new moment all objects suffer a new change or pariṇāma ; but what would the Mīmāṃsaka say? With him the object (e.g., the jug) remains the same at all successive moments. If it is argued that in the knowledge of an object abiding in and through successive moments we have at each particular moment a new element of time involved in it and this may constitute a newness of knowledge in spite of the fact that the object of knowledge has been abiding all through the moments, the same may be argued in favour of memory; for it manifests objects in the present and has reference to the experience as having happened in the past (smṛtir api vartamāna-tat-kālatayā anubhūtam artham atīta-kālatayā avagāhate). Jaya-tīrtha maintains that it is not possible to show any necessary connection between prāmāṇya (validity), and the requirement that the object should be previously unacquired (anadhigatārtha) either through association (sāhacārya), or through that and the want of any contradictory instance; for on the first ground many other things associated with prāmāṇya would have to be claimed to be anadhigata, which they are not, and the second ground does not apply at least in the case of continuous knowledge (dhārā-vāhika jñāna). For in the case of continuous knowledge successive moments are regarded as pramāṇa in spite of there being in them no new knowledge.

If it is objected “how could it be the function of pramāṇa to make an already-known object known to us” (adhigatam evārtham adhigamayatā pramāṇena piṣṭaṃ piṣṭaṃ syāt), what does the objection really mean? It cannot mean that in regard to a known object no further cognition can arise; for neither is knowledge opposed to knowledge, nor is want of knowledge a part of the conditions which produce knowledge. The objection to the rise of a second knowledge of a known object on the ground of fruitlessness has already been answered. Nor can it be said that a pramāṇa should not be dependent on anything else or on any other knowledge; for that objection would also apply to inference, which is admitted by all to be a pramāṇa. So pramāṇa should be so defined that memory may be included within it. Chaḷari-śeṣācārya quotes an unidentified scriptural text in support of the inclusion of memory in pramāṇa[10]. Jaya-tīrtha, in a brief statement of the positive considerations which according to him support the inclusion of memory in pramāṇa, says that memory is true (yathārtha). When an object appears in consciousness to have a definite character in a particular time and at a particular place and has actually that character at that time and at that place, then this knowledge is true or yathārtha. Now memory gives us exactly this sort of knowledge; “it was so there at that time.” It is not the fact that at that time it was not so. Memory is directly produced by the manas, and the impressions (saṃskāra) represent its mode of contact with the object. It is through the impressions that mind comes in contact with specific objects (saṃskāras tu manasas tad-artha-sannikarṣa-rūpa eva). It may be objected that, the object referred to by memory having undergone many changes and ceased in the interval to exist in its old state, the present memory cannot take hold of its object; the answer is that the objection would have some force if manas, unaided by any other instrument, were expected to do it; but this is not so. Just as the sense-organs, which are operative only in the present, may yet perform the operation of recognition through the help of the impressions (saṃskāra), so the manas also may be admitted to refer by the help of the impressions to an object which has changed its previous state[11].

The conception of pramāṇa is considered a subject of great importance in Indian philosophy. The word pramāṇa is used principally in two different senses,

  1. as a valid mental act, as distinguished from the invalid or illusory cognitions;
  2. as the instruments or the collocations of circumstances which produce knowledge.

Some account of pramāṇa in the latter sense has already been given in Vol. 1, pp. 330-2. The conflicting opinions regarding the interpretation of pramāṇa as instruments of knowledge is due to the fact that diverse systems of philosophy hold different views regarding the nature and origin of knowledge. Thus the Nyāya defines pramāṇa as the collocation of causes which produces knowledge (upalabdhi or pramā). The causes of memory are excluded from pramāṇa simply on verbal grounds, namely that people use the word smṛti (memory) to denote knowledge produced merely from impressions (saṃskāra-mātra-janmanaḥ) and distinguish it from pramā, or right knowledge, which agrees with its objects[12].

The Jains, however, consider the indication of the object as revealed to us (arthopadarśakatva) as pramā, and in this they differ from the Buddhist view which defines pramā as the actual getting of the object (artha-prāpakatva). The Jains hold that the actual getting of the object is a result of pramtti, or effort to get it, and not of pramāṇa[13]. Though through an effort undertaken at the time of the occurrence of knowledge and in accordance with it one may attain the object, yet the function of jñāna consists only in the indication of the object as revealed by it[14]. Pramā is therefore according to the Jains equivalent to svārtha-paricchitti, or the outlining of the object, and the immediate instrument of it, or pramāṇa, is the subjective inner flash of knowledge, leading to such objective artha-paricchitti, or determination of objects[15]. Of course svārtha-paricchitti appears to be only a function of jñāna and thus in a sense identical with it, and in that way pramāṇa is identical with jñāna. But it is because the objective reference is considered here to be the essence of pramā, that jñāna, or the inner revelation of knowledge, is regarded as its instrument or pramāṇa and the external physical instruments or accessories to the production of knowledge noted by the Nyāya are discarded. It is the selfrevelation of knowledge that leads immediately to the objective reference and objective determination, and the collocation of other accessories (sākalya or sāmagrī) can lead to it only through knowledge[16]. Knowledge alone can therefore be regarded as the most direct and immediately preceding instrument (sādhakatama). For similar reasons the Jains reject the Sāṃkhya view of pramāṇa as the functioning of the senses (aindriya-vṛtti) and the Prabhākara view of pramāṇa as the operation of the knower in the knowing process beneath the conscious level[17].

It is interesting to note in this connection that the Buddhist view on this point, as explained by Dharmottara, came nearer the Jain view by identifying pramāṇa and pramāṇa-phala in jñāna (“knowledge”). Thus by pramāṇa Dharmottara understands the similarity of the idea to the object, arising out of the latter’s influence, and the idea or jñāna is called the pramāṇa-phala, though the similarity of the idea to the object giving rise to it is not different from the idea itself[18]. The similarity is called here pramāna, because it is by virtue of this similarity that the reference to the particular object of experience is possible; the knowledge of blue is possibly only by virtue of the similarity of the idea to the blue.

The Madhva definition of pramāṇa as yathārthaṃ pramāṇam means that by which an object is made known as it is. The instrument which produces it may be external sense-contact and the like, called here the anupramāṇa corresponding to the sāmagrī of the Nyāya, and the exercise of the intuitive function of the intuitive sense (kevala pramāṇa) of sākṣī, which is identical with self. Thus it combines in a way the subjective view of Prabhākara and the Jains and the objective view of the Nyāya.

Footnotes and references:


Madhva’s definition of pramāṇa in his Pramāṇa-lakṣaṇa is elaborated by Jaya-tīrtha in his Pramāṇa-paddhati as jñeyam anatikramya vartamānaṃ yathā-vasthitam eva jñeyaṃ yad viṣayīkaroti nānyathā tat pramāṇam (p. 8).


Jaya-tīrtha-vijaya-ṭippaṇī on the Pramāṇa-paddhati by Janārdana.


Ibid. Also kevalaṃ viṣayasya jñeyatvaṃ jñānam upādhitayā karaṇaṃ tu tajjanakatayā saṃpādayanti ity etāvantaṃ viśeṣam āśritya kevalānu-pramāṇa-bhedaḥ samarthitaḥ.
II. 1. 2 (p. 249).




Ibid. p. 260


Here Jaya-tīrtha refers to the definitions of the Mīmāṃsā as anadhigatārtha-gantṛ pramāṇam and as anubhūtiḥ pramāṇam. The first refers to Kiimārila’s definition and the second to that of Prabhākara. Kumārila defines pramāṇa (as found in the Codanā-sūtra 80, Śloka-vārttika) as firm knowledge (dṛḍhaṃ vijñānam) produced (utpannam) and unassociated with other knowledge (nāpi jñānāntareṇa saṃvādam ṛcchati). The second definition is that of Prabhākara as quoted in Śālikanāṭha’s Prakaraṇa-pañcikā, p. 42: pramāṇam anubhūtiḥ.


smṛtir hi tad-ity-upajāyamānā prācīṃ pratītim anur(?)dhyamānā na svātantryeṇa arthaṃ paricchinatti iti na pramāṇam.
p. 42.


na hy asti pratyakṣādi-prāmāṇya-sādhakam anyad loka-vyavaḥārāt.
II. 1. 2 adhikaraṇa, p. 251.


te hi śrutyādinānubhūtārthaṃ smṛtvā tat-pratipādakaṃ grantham āracayati.
p. 252.


smṛtiḥ pratyakṣam aitihyam anumānacatuṣṭayam
praṃāṇam iti vijñeyaṃ dharmādy-arthe mumukṣubhiḥ.
p. 4.


saṃskāra-sahakṛtam manaḥ ananubhūtām api nivṛtta-pūrvāvasthāṃ viṣayī-kurvat smaraṇam janayet iti ko doṣaḥ; vartamāna-viṣayāṇi api indriyāṇi sahakāri-sāmarthyāt kālāntara-sambandhitām api gocarayanti; yathā saṃskāra-sahakṛtāni soyam ity atīta-vartamānatva-viśiṣṭaviṣayapratyabhijñā-sādhanāni prākṛtendri-yāṇi mano-vṛtti-jñānam janayanti.
p. 24.


pramā-sādhanaṃ hi pramāṇam na ca smṛtiḥ pramā lokādhīnāvadhāraṇo hi śabdārtha-sambandhaḥ. lokaś ca saṃskāra-mātra-janmanaḥ smṛter anyām upalabdhim arthāvyābhicāriṇīṃ pramām ācaṣṭe tasmāt tad-dhetuḥ pramāṇam iti na smṛti-hetu-prasaṅgaḥ.
p. 14.


pravṛtti-mūlā tūpādeyārtha-prāptir na pramāṇādhīnā tasyāḥ puruṣecchā-dhīna-pravṛtti-prabhavatvāt.
p. 7.


yady apy anekasmāṭ jñāna-kṣaṇāt pravṛttau artha-prāptiṣ tathāpi paryā-locyamānam artha-pradarśakatvam eva jñānasya prāpakatvaṃ nānyat.

The reflection made here against the Buddhists is hardly fair; for by pravart-takatva they also mean pradarśakatva, though they think that the series of activities meant by pramāṇa-vyāpāra is finally concluded when the object is actually got. The idea or vijñāna only shows the object, and, when the object is shown, the effort is initiated and the object is got. The actual getting of the object is important only in this sense, that it finally determines whether the idea is correct or not; for when the object which corresponds exactly to the idea is got the idea can be said to be correct.
      Nyāya-bindu-ṭīkā, pp. 3, 4.


anya-nirapekṣatayā svārtha-paricchittisādhakatamatvād jñānam eva pramāṇam.
, p. 5.


For other Jain arguments in refutation of the sāmagrī theory of pramāṇa in the Nyāya see Prarneya-kamala-mārtaṇḍa, pp. 2-4.


etenendriya-vṛttiḥ pramāṇam ity abhidadḥānaḥ sāṃkhyaḥ pratyākḥyātaḥ... etena Prabhākaro’py artha-tathātva-prakāśako jñātṛ-vyāpāro’jñāna-rūpo’pipramāṇam iti pratipādayan prativyūḍhaḥ patipattavyaḥ.
p. 6.


yadi tarhi jāñam pramiti-rūpatvāt pramāṇa-phalam kiṃ tarhi pramāṇam ity āha; arthena saha yat sārupyam sādṛśyam asya jñānasya tat pramāṇam iha... nanu ca jñānād avyatiriktaṃ sādṛśyam: tathā ca sati tad eva jñānaṃ pramāṇam tad eva pramāṇa-phalam.
, p. 18.

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