Vakyapadiya (study of the concept of Sentence)

by Sarath P. Nath | 2018 | 36,088 words

This page relates ‘The Concept of Pratibha in Indian Philosophy’ of the study on Vakyapadiya by Bhartrhari and his treatment of the Concept of Sentence in Language. Bhartrhari was a great grammarian and philosopher who explored the depth and breadth of Sanskrit grammar. These pages analyse the concepts and discussions on sentence and sentence-meaning presented in the Vakyapadiya, against the different systems of knowledge prevalent in ancient India (such as Mimamsa, Nyaya and Vyakarana).

2. The Concept of Pratibhā in Indian Philosophy

In general, Indian schools of thought use the term Pratibhā as a concept which indicates any kind of knowledge, which is not sense-borne. As it implies a super sensuous knowledge, the prime characters of this concept are immediacy and intense clarity. Hence it is described as a flash or the sense of wisdom characterised by immediacy and freshness (nanavonmeṣaśālinī prajñā). It is because of the super sensuous nature, Pratibhā is transcendental and non-empirical. It is always free from the limitations of time and space. In this sense, it is rather equivalent to intuition. In Indian systems of thought, the concept of Pratibhā is described both as an inherent power and as an act of voluntary consciousness (Gayatri Rath, 2000, p.141). As an inherent power of wisdom, it can be sublimated to the intuitive knowledge of the self. As an act, it has the capacity to put someone into creative forms such as poetry or art. Thus, Dr. Padma Sudhi puts forth that Pratibhā as the intuitive knowledge, gives expressions to the art forms as talent or genius. Thus artistic talent or genius is nothing but Pratibhā and its spiritual quest (Vol.3, 1983, p.124). In short, the concept of Pratibhā is omnipresent in all novel ideas in any area of science, art, literature or philosophy etc. In other words, they are inspired by Pratibhā.

In one way or other, almost all Indian philosophies have included this super sensuous knowledge or intuition in their technical discussions. The doctrine of Pratibhā, in the same form or other, has ever been an article of universal acceptance in India. Except Cārvākas, all other philosophers describe a super-natural perception, which enables one to directly grasp the real nature of things. Most of these schools may not name this unique perception as Pratibhā, but the Schools of Yoga, Vedānta and Buddhism exclusively discussed the characteristics of it. Cārvāka system, being a materialistic philosophy, denies any sort of super-natural perception. According to them, sense perception is the only source of knowledge. Coward opines that in the Cārvāka system, everything is derived from material elements which are judged to possess their own svabhāva or the immanent life force. (1980, p.50). It has to be noted that, Bhartṛhari recognises Pratibhā as Svabhāvaja (Pratibhā, that derives from the svabhāva or nature), while describing the six kinds of it[1] (Vākyapadīya, 2.152). Thus, the omnipresence of Pratibhā in the Cārvāka School cannot be denied completely. In Jainism, we may find no direct reference to this concept. Still they implicitly discussed similar notions while they describe the concept of avadhijñāna or kevalajñāna. The followers of Pūrvamīmāṃsa school do not accept any kind of super-natural perception and therefore they refute the Pratibhā theory. But Kumārila, in his Ślokavārtika, invokes Mahā Deva (Supreme Being), who possesses a Divya cakṣus (Divine Eye) in the form of three Vedas (1). Here, the Divya cakṣus (Divine Eye), which has a capacity of super-natural perception, in its essence, is equivalent to Pratibhā. There is no direct reference of this concept in the Sāṅkhya philosophy also. But we may find some description of intuitional consciousness while discussing about Kaivalya (J Prasad, 2010, p.17). Nyāya philosophy also uses this term to signify the intuitive consciousness from which, fresh and novel ideas are awakened.

M B Jhalakikar points out that the concept is defined in the Nyāya School as,

"sphūrtyākhyo budhiviśeṣaḥ"

“a special mode of forming and retaining conceptions of the quivering or sudden appearance of description”,
  —(trans. Gayatri Rath, 2000, p.147)


"prajñā navanavonmeṣaśālinī Pratibhā matā"

“intuitive consciousness abounding in always new awakenings”.
  —(Quoted by Gayatri Rath, 2000, p.147)

Yoga discusses the concept of Pratibhā exclusively so as to describe the super-natural perception or omniscience that a yogi attains in contemplation. Here, the term prajñā is often used in the sense of Pratibhā. The most significant reference is seen in the third chapter of Patañjali's Yogasūtra, which states that "Pratibhādvā sarvam" (3.33). One who practises yoga can attain the real nature of all because of Pratibhā or the innate capacity. Here, Pratibhā is described as a spontaneous flash of insight, which is awakened with the practise of concentration. This state is termed as ' sasmita samādhi', in which, one becomes self-conscious as well as 'all-conscious'.

Once Pratibhā is awakened, one attains the power of super normal perception of hearing, touch, sight, taste and awareness of events of the subtle, concealed, remote whether past or future.

"prātibhaṃ nāma tārakam. tadvivekajasya jñānasya pūrvarūpam.
tena vā sarvameva jānāti yogī prātibhasya jñānasyotpattāviti
  —(Vyāsabhāṣya, 3.33)

Thus in the Yoga school, all sort of omniscience can be explained through this unique concept of Pratibhā and hence it is considered as an important thesis by the followers of this school.

The word ' Pratibhā' is seen in earlier Buddhist literature itself. Aṅguttara Nikāya, one of the oldest canonical works of Buddhists, refers to four types of poets, among which the last one is 'Pratibhānakavi' (quoted by Gayatri Rath, 2000, p.147). We can assume that the Pratibhā theory of Bhartṛhari influenced Diṅnāga, the famous Buddhist logician.

He mentions in his Pramāṇasamuccayavṛtti that meaning of a sentence is Pratibhā under the influence of Vākyapadīya[2].

apoddhāre padasyāyaṃ vākyād artho vivecitaḥ
vākyārthaḥ pratibhākhyo yaṃ tenādāvupajanyate
  —(Quoted by Coward and Raja, 2007, p.28, fn.26)

Footnotes and references:


Six kinds of Pratibhā are explicated under 4.6 in this thesis.


Many scholars of modern times have rightly observed the indebtedness of Diṅṅāga to Bhartṛhari in his main work Pramāṇasamuccayavṛtti. He quotes three verses of Vākyapadīya in this work to support his argumnts. Masaaki Hattori argues that the Buddhist theory of language, anyāpoha resembles Bhartṛhari's concept of Jāti discussed in the Jātisamuddeśa of Vākyapadīya. (Coward and Raja, 2007, p.27)

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