Pramana (प्रमाणम्)

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Pramana (Samskrit : प्रमाणम्) is the means or chief instrument of knowing valid knowledge (Prama । प्रमा)). From the questions like who and what created the universe, determining the nature of objects, sprang an urge for investigation into the real state of things (Tatvajignasa). These queries led to investigation into identifying the criterion of what constitutes valid knowledge and the ways by which objects or things can be cognized ultimately theories of cognition have been formulated. Pramana is a subject that arose from the need to recognize valid knowledge and various theories have been proposed to describe the same.[1]

परिचयः॥ Introduction

All thinkers in general have given their attention to the problem of cognition for a long time. Bharatiya tattva shastras are unique in that Jnana (ज्ञानम् । knowledge), Prama (प्रमा । Right or valid knowledge) and Aprama (अप्रमा । invalid knowledge) are clearly distinct entities. Western tradition defines 'knowledge' as truth, and justified true belief. Indian tradition does not have an equivalent word for belief. In Bharatiya shastras, Prama is explored in the context of fulfilling purusharthas, whereas western traditions do not have such an ultimate goal for exploring knowledge, thus for them knowledge is just for the sake of knowledge. Knowledge and Action are both related to the Mind. However, Action is dependent on the agent and his will (Kartr-tantra) while Knowledge is conditioned by its object (vastu-tantra). When a man decides to travel his will determines the mode of travel and the place to reach. This is not the case of Knowledge, it is independent of the will of the person, a pillar is a pillar and confirms to the vastu or object and does not change even if the someone mistakes it for a man standing.[2]

Here for the sake of clarity, Jnana is considered as general knowledge, which on analysis or cognizance reveals true knowledge is called Prama or valid knowledge, and when this revelation is false it is called aprama or invalid knowledge.  

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology

According to Shabdakalpadhruma the term Pramana (प्रमाणम्) is derived from the dhatu मा (मा॒ङ् माने) used in the sense of measurement and cognition with an upasarga (prefix) प्र which is used in the sense of प्रकृष्टः and the pratyaya (suffix) lyut (ल्युट्). The suffix 'lyut', being in the instrumental case. Pramana means the instrument by which some thing is rightly cognized. According to Prof. Korada Subrahmanyam,[3]

Pramāṇa is the instrument by which the reality of essence of anything is ascertained (प्रमीयते परिच्छिद्यते वस्तुतत्त्वं येन तत्प्रमाणम् – माङ् माने or डुमिञ् प्रक्षेपणे – करणे ल्युट् – करणाधिकरणयोश्च पा ३-३-११७, प्रमाकरणं प्रमाणम्).

The word Pramana signifies the instrument because (it is derived as) "by this is rightly known" (Pramiyate anena). Loosely the term stands for knowledge as well as for the means of valid knowledge but in Nyaya logic it is generally used in the second sense.[2]

Pramanas in Vedas

Pramanas are in a way standards for examination, verification, modification and confirmation of our knowledge. A mention of Pramanas is made in the Taittriya Aranyaka as follows

स्मृतिः प्रत्यक्षमैतिह्यम् । अनुमानश्चतुष्टयम् । (Tait. Aran. 1.2.1)[4]

Smrti, Pratyaksha, Aitihya, and Anumana are four terms.

प्रमाणतत्वम् ॥ Pramana Tattva

The tattva or the "true nature of", "the real knowledge about", "property really possessed by object", "assured cognition of an object" ; all these indicate an inquiry into the real state of things or objects. Both "Jnana" and "Prama" indicate some kind of knowledge, however

  • ज्ञानम् । Jnana means all kinds of knowledge, true or false. Example: there is a rope or snake.
  • यथार्थज्ञानम् । Yatharthajnana or Prama is when reality reveals true knowledge (valid knowledge). Example : knowledge of rope in a rope.
  • अप्रमा । Aprama is when reality reveals false knowledge (invalid knowledge). Example : knowledge of snake in a rope.

While Jnana is used to denote knowledge from the psychological standpoint that helps in cognition of an object, Prama is used to indicate true knowledge in the logical sense, which denotes ability of recognizing the real nature and character of an object. The following section elaborates on the four factors which make up the system of cognition as generally agreed by scholars.

अर्थतत्वम् ॥ Artha Tattva

Four basic factors make up the system of recognition according to Nyaya darshana. Since all the fundamental aspects of cognition are explained in this shastra sutras from Nyaya are taken as a standard. Vatsyayana Bhashya of Nyayasutras defines the 4 components as follows

तत्र यस्येप्साजिहासाप्रयुक्तस्य प्रवृत्तिः स प्रमाता । स येनार्थं प्रमिणोति तत्प्रमाणं । योऽर्थः प्रतीयते तत्प्रमेयं । यदर्थविज्ञानं सा प्रमितिः । चतसृषु चैवंविधास्वार्थतत्वं परिसमाप्यते । (Vats. Bhas. Intro Before Sutra 1)[5]

tatra yasyepsājihāsāprayuktasya pravr̥ttiḥ sa pramātā । sa yenārthaṁ pramiṇoti tatpramāṇaṁ । yo'rthaḥ pratīyate tatprameyaṁ । yadarthavijñānaṁ sā pramitiḥ । catasr̥ṣu caivaṁvidhāsvārthatatvaṁ parisamāpyate । (Vats. Bhas. Intro Before Sutra 1)

  1. The Prama (प्रमा) or Pramiti  : the valid knowledge (of an object), the right understanding
  2. The Prameya (प्रमेयः) : the knowable, the object to be known, the object of valid knowledge
  3. The Pramana (प्रमाणम्) : the instrument with which Prameya is evaluated and known and is the chief instrument of valid knowledge
  4. The Pramata (प्रमाता) : the knower of object, the cognizer of valid knowledge, one who uses pramana.

Thus a Pramaata (knower of object) validates the Prama (right understanding) of a Prameya (the object to be known) through the means of Pramana (the instrument of that knowledge). All these four are required for the completion of Arthatattva. So it can be said that valid knowledge is not possible if any one of them is absent. Western theories of philosophy use three factors namely, subject, object, and the resultant knowledge. Indian philosophy is distinct and unique in that the means or instrument of valid cognition or knowledge i.e., pramana.[6]

Example : A very simplified common place example of these 4 constituents of Arthatattva may be given as about purchase fruits or vegetables in a market.

  • Pramana is the standard weight bar say of 1Kg (means to measure).
  • Prameya is the vegetable or fruits which have to be purchased.
  • Prama is the definitive knowledge that a particular amount of vegetable weighed is as much as 1 Kg.
  • Pramata is the person who is weighing and acquiring this knowledge of a specified quantity of vegetables or fruits of 1 Kg.

प्रमा ॥ Prama

A form of definitive Jnana, Prama, the valid knowledge of an object has two aspects

  1. Nature of the object
  2. Test of verification or validity of the nature

Nyaya : यदर्थविज्ञानं सा प्रमितिः । yadarthavijñānaṁ sā pramitiḥ । (Vats. Bhas. Intro Before Sutra 1)[5]

Nyaya darshana considers that Prama is a definite or certain (असं दिग्धम् । asandigdha), unerring (यथार्थ । yatartha) knowledge and it consists of knowing the object as it is. Thus the nature of the truth is तद्वति तत्प्रकारकम् which means the object of knowledge is in toto without any distortion.

Tarkasangraha : तद्वति तत्प्रकारकोऽनुभवो यथार्थः। yadarthavijñātadvati tatprakārako'nubhavo yathārthaḥ। (Tark. Samg. 3.19)[7]

Similar to Nyaya, Annambhatta's Tarkasangraha explains that Yatartha Jnana is Prama. It clearly defines the difference between Prama and Aprama as follows

यथा रजते इदं रजतमिति ज्ञानम्। सैव प्रमेच्युते ॥१९॥॥ (Tark. Samg. 3.19)[7]

Summary : Thus Prama is that which pertains to यथार्थानुभवः। definite knowledge of an object which is true presentational in character, just as the knowledge an object of silver as "this is silver". Here the knowledge about the quality of silverness (रजतत्वम्) of the object is in toto without any distortion to silver.

Samkhya : द्वयोरेकतरस्यवाप्यसन्निकृष्टार्थपरिच्छित्तिः प्रमा ...(प्रमा स्वरूपं) । dvayorekatarasyavāpyasannikr̥ṣṭārthaparicchittiḥ pramā... (pramā svarūpaṁ) ।(Samk. Sutr. 1.87)[8]

The determination of something not (previously) lodged in neither both (Sense-organs and Objects), nor in one or other of them, is Prama, the right knowledge.

Vaisheshika : अदुष्टं विद्या । वैशेषिक-९,२.१२ । aduṣṭaṁ vidyā । vaiśeṣika-9,2.12 । (Vais. Sutr. 9.2.12)[9] The knowledge which is not corrupted is Vidya. It is implied from this sutra that what is not corrupted and is well tested, free from Indriya doshas and Samskara doshas is nothing but Prama.

Prabhakara Mimamsa : They define prama or valid knowledge as immediate experience (Anubhuti). It is different from smrti or memory which is the impression of past experiences. That is to say 'valid cognition' is Apprehension. Hence according to them the truth of knowledge, praamaanya is guaranteed by its having the characteristic of immediacy.

प्रमाणमनुभूतिः, सा स्मृतेरन्या, न सा स्मृतिः । न प्रमाणं स्मृतिः पूर्वप्रतिपत्तिव्यपेक्षणात्।[10] (Prakaranapanchika)

There are other versions about what constitutes Prama by different Bharatiya shastras, though they have not been explicitly mentioned in sutra format.[6]

Difference between Prama and Jnana
Darshana Prama Jnana
Defined as the knowledge obtained after testing the validity of an unknown entity by Pramana. Defined as knowledge in general broadly.
Samkhya Knowledge of an object, undoubted and real (परीक्षितम्), previously unknown (अपूर्वनिश्चितज्ञानम्)[11] Theory of Svaprakasatva. Cognition (Buddhi) being जड़ (अचेतनम् inert), is realised by Purusha, which alone is self conscious.[11]
Nyaya Definite knowledge of an object which is true presentational in character (यथार्थानुभवः) Theory of Paraprakasatva. Jnana is cognized only through another piece of cognition called as anuvyavasaya (अनुव्यवसायः something that follows perception)[11]
Vaiseshika Certainity (निःसंधिग्धः lack of doubt) non-contradictoriness (अबाधित) and definiteness (निश्चितः) and includes Smrti. Theory of Paraprakasatva. Like the Nyaya Vaiseshika also believes that Jnana is not self luminous.[6]
Advaita Vedanta Truth or valid cognition is an uncontradicted knowledge (अबाधितत्व) Theory of Svaprakasatva. Means both Absolute (Svarupa Jnana or Knowledge of Brahman) and Relative Knowledge (Vrtti Jnana Avidya or Maya) illuminated by the principle consciousness itself.[6]
Vishishtadvaita of Uttara Mimamsa Apprehends an object as it really exists and prompts fruitful activity Theory of Svaprakasatva. Knowledge is that which reveals an object to its subject by virtue of its intrinsic capacity. (Pg 36 of [6])
Prabhakara Mimamsa Similar to Nyaya but uses Anubhuti (अनुभवः) Theory of Svaprakasatva. Jnana is svaprakasa or self luminous, cognizes the three factors simultaneously - 1. the object 2. itself 3. the Knower (Self). (Triputi-samvit)[11]
Bhatta Mimamsa Definite, true and a new cognition of objects (अनधिगतत्वम्), which does not stand in need of confirmation by other cognitions.[11] Theory of Paraprakasatva. Knowledge being formless and not self luminous cannot be directly perceived but be inferred by a new quality called manifestedness in the object (Jnanata)(Pg 8 of Reference [11]).

प्रमेयः ॥ Prameya

Nyaya sutras of Gautama explicitly define the Premaya or the objects of cognition, which are to be known. It is classified into 12 kinds.

आत्मशरीरेन्द्रियार्थबुद्धिमनःप्रवृत्तिदोषप्रेत्यभावफलदुःखापवर्गाः तु प्रमेयम्।। ९ ।।{प्रमेयौद्देशसूत्रम्}[12]

ātmaśarīrendriyārthabuddhimanaḥpravr̥ttidoṣapretyabhāvaphaladuḥkhāpavargāḥ tu prameyam।। 9 ।।{prameyauddeśasūtram}

Atma (आत्मा), Body (शरीरम्), Sense-organs (इन्द्रियाणि), Objects (अर्थः), Knowledge (बुद्धिः), Mind (मनः), Activity (प्रवृत्तिः), Defect (दोषः like Raga, dvesha etc), Rebirth (प्रेत्यभाव), Result (फलम्), Pain (दुःखा), and Release from worldly bonds (अपवर्गाः) constitute the objects of cognition.

Vatsyayana Bhashya for Nyaya Sutra 9 is as follows as given under each lakshana explaining the 12 kinds of Prameya given by the Sutras.

आत्मा ॥ Atma

  • Sutra : इच्छाद्वेषप्रयत्नसुखदुःखज्ञानानि आत्मनः लिङ्गं इति ।।१०।। {आत्मलक्षणम्}[12] icchādveṣaprayatnasukhaduḥkhajñānāni ātmanaḥ liṅgaṁ iti ।।10।। {ātmalakṣaṇam} Meaning : Desire (इच्छा), desire to keep away from something (द्वेषः), Action (प्रयत्नः), pleasure, pain and knowledge (सुखदुःखज्ञानानि) are the marks of Atma.
  • Bhashya : तत्रात्मा सर्वस्य द्रष्टा सर्वस्य भोक्ता सर्वज्ञः सर्वानुभावो । tatrātmā sarvasya draṣṭā sarvasya bhoktā sarvajñaḥ sarvānubhāvo । (Page 71 of Reference [5]) Atma (soul) is the drashta (perceiver of all that brings about pain and pleasure), the bhokta (experiencer of all pains and pleasures), sarvajna (knower of all knowledge), sarvanubhava (experience of all things).

शरीरम् ॥ Body

  • Sutra : चेष्टेन्द्रियार्थाश्रयः शरीरम्।।११।। {शरीरलक्षणम्}[12]ceṣṭendriyārthāśrayaḥ śarīram।।11।। {śarīralakṣaṇam} which means the base or location for action (चेष्टा), sense-organs (इन्द्रियानि) and objects (अर्थः) is sharira (body).
  • Bhashya : तस्य भोगायतनं शरीरम् । tasya bhogāyatanaṁ śarīram । The base of Atma's experiences is the body.(Pg 52 of Reference [13])

इन्द्रियाणि ॥ Sense-organs

  • Sutra : घ्राणरसनचक्षुस्त्वक्श्रोत्राणि इन्द्रियाणि भूतेभ्यः ।।१२।। {इन्द्रियलक्षणम्}[12] ghrāṇarasanacakṣustvakśrotrāṇi indriyāṇi bhūtebhyaḥ ।।12।। {indriyalakṣaṇam} It means the sense organs ( organs of smell, taste, vision, sensation, audition) are made from material substances (panchamahabhutas).
  • Bhashya : भोगसाधनानीन्द्रियाणि । bhogasādhanānīndriyāṇi । Indriyas are the instruments of experience for the Atma. (Pg 52 of Reference [13])

अर्थः ॥ Objects

  • Sutra : गन्धरसरूपस्पर्शशब्दाः पृथिव्यादिगुणाः तदर्थाः।।१४।।[12] gandharasarūpasparśaśabdāḥ pr̥thivyādiguṇāḥ tadarthāḥ।।14।। Meaning : Odour, Taste, Color, Touch and Sound which are the qualities of material substances (prthvi, apah, tejah, vayu and akasha).
  • Bhashya : भोक्तव्या इन्द्रियार्थाः । bhoktavyā indriyārthāḥ । Arthas are Objects to be experienced. (Pg 52 of Reference [13])

बुद्धिः ॥ Knowledge

  • Sutra : बुद्धिः उपलब्धिः ज्ञानं इति अनर्थान्तरम्।।१५।।{बुद्धिलक्षणम्}[12] buddhiḥ upalabdhiḥ jñānaṁ iti anarthāntaram।।15।।{buddhilakṣaṇam} Essence is that Buddhi is synonymous with knowledge (ज्ञानं) in Nyaya darshana.
  • Bhashya : भोगो बुद्धिः । bhogo buddhiḥ । Experience form of Knowledge (Jnana and Upalabdhi) is Buddhi.

मनः ॥ Manas

  • Sutra : युगपत्ज्ञानानुत्पत्तिः मनसः लिङ्गम्।।१६।।{मनोलक्षणम्}[12] yugapatjñānānutpattiḥ manasaḥ liṅgam।।16।।{manolakṣaṇam} which means that the non-appearance of simultaneous experience of all the senses is indicative of presence of Manas.
  • Bhashya : सर्वार्थोपलब्धौ नेन्द्रियाणि प्रभवन्तीति सर्वविषयमन्तःकरणं मनः । sarvārthopalabdhau nendriyāṇi prabhavantīti sarvaviṣayamantaḥkaraṇaṁ manaḥ । Manas is that internal organ which is capable of experiencing (sukha and dukha) all things of which even the Indriyas (being limited in their scope) are incapable to do. (Pg 52 of Reference [13])

प्रवृत्तिः ॥ Action

  • Sutra : प्रवृत्तिः वाग्बुद्धिशरीरारम्भः।।१७।।{प्रवृत्तिलक्षणम्} pravr̥ttiḥ vāgbuddhiśarīrārambhaḥ।।17।।{pravr̥ttilakṣaṇam} It means that Activity consists of Speech, action of Mind and action of Body.

दोषः ॥ Dosha

  • Sutra : प्रवर्त्तनालक्षणाः दोषाः।।१८।।{दोषलक्षणम्} pravarttanālakṣaṇāḥ doṣāḥ।।18।।{doṣalakṣaṇam} Doshas (defects imperfection) are the cause for inciting a person into activity.
  • Bhashya : शरीरेन्द्रियार्थबुद्धिसुखवेदनानां निवृत्तिकारणं प्रवृत्तिः दोषाश्च । नास्येदं शरीरमपूर्वमनुत्तरं च । śarīrendriyārthabuddhisukhavedanānāṁ nivr̥ttikāraṇaṁ pravr̥ttiḥ doṣāśca । nāsyedaṁ śarīramapūrvamanuttaraṁ ca । Body, sense-organs, objects (artha), pleasure and pain are all products of Activity and Defects (doshas such as raga etc). (Pg 52 of Reference [13])

प्रेत्यभावः ॥ Rebirth

  • Sutra : पुनरुत्पत्तिः प्रेत्यभावः ।।१९।।{प्रेत्यभावलक्षणम्}[12] punarutpattiḥ pretyabhāvaḥ ।।19।।{pretyabhāvalakṣaṇam} Rebirth which consists of being born again after death is Pretyabhava.
  • Bhashya : पूर्वशरीराणामादिर्नास्ति उत्तरेषामपवर्गो अन्तः इति प्रेत्यभावः । pūrvaśarīrāṇāmādirnāsti uttareṣāmapavargo antaḥ iti pretyabhāvaḥ । For an Atma this body is neither the first one nor is the last. In terms of previous bodies there is no such thing as first one. In terms of future existence of bodies Apavarga is the last. This indicates existence of rebirth. (Pg 52 of Reference [13])

फलम् ॥ Result

  • Sutra : प्रवृत्तिदोषजनितः अर्थः फलम्।।२०।।{फललक्षणम्}[12] pravr̥ttidoṣajanitaḥ arthaḥ phalam।।20।।{phalalakṣaṇam} Meaning : Result in the form of Artha (Object) is what is produced due to action and dosha.
  • Bhashya : ससाधनसुखदःखोपभोगः फलम् । sasādhanasukhadaḥkhopabhogaḥ phalam । Experience of pleasure, pain along with the instruments leading to them is the Result. (Pg 52 of Reference [13])

दुःखम् ॥ Pain

  • Sutra : बाधनालक्षणं दुःखम्।।२१।।{दुःखलक्षणम्}[12] bādhanālakṣaṇaṁ duḥkham।।21।।{duḥkhalakṣaṇam} Meaning : The experience of suffering or injury consists of Pain.
  • Bhashya : दुःखमिति, नेदमनुकूलवेदनीयस्य सुखस्य प्रतीतेः प्रत्याख्यानं । किं तर्हि जन्मन एवेदम् । duḥkhamiti, nedamanukūlavedanīyasya sukhasya pratīteḥ pratyākhyānaṁ । kiṁ tarhi janmana evedam । By the special mention of 'Pain' (and the omission of 'pleasure') it is not meant that there is no pleasure at all. Birth is intended as Pain here. (Pg 52 of Reference [13])

अपवर्गः ॥ Release from Worldly Bonds

  • Sutra : तदत्यन्तविमोक्षः अपवर्गः।।२२।।{अपवर्गलक्षणम्} [12] tadatyantavimokṣaḥ apavargaḥ।।22।।{apavargalakṣaṇam} Absolute release from the aforesaid Dukha or pain etc is Apavarga.
  • Bhashya : सुखसाधनस्य दुःखानुषङ्गदुखेन अविप्रयोगाद्विविध-बन्धनायोगाद्दुःखमिति समाधिभावनमुपदिश्यते समाहितो भावयति भावययन्निर्विद्यते विर्विण्णस्य वैराग्यं विरक्तस्यापवर्ग इति । जन्ममरणप्रवन्धोच्छेदः सर्वदुःखप्रहाणमपवर्ग इति । अस्य तु तत्वज्ञानादपवर्गो मिथ्थाज्ञानात्संसार इति । sukhasādhanasya duḥkhānuṣaṅgadukhena aviprayogādvividha-bandhanāyogādduḥkhamiti samādhibhāvanamupadiśyate samāhito bhāvayati bhāvayayannirvidyate virviṇṇasya vairāgyaṁ viraktasyāpavarga iti । janmamaraṇapravandhocchedaḥ sarvaduḥkhaprahāṇamapavarga iti । asya tu tatvajñānādapavargo miththājñānātsaṁsāra iti ।(Vats. Bhas. Page 71 and 72)[5]

All the instruments of Sukha are adhered to dukha and can be never separated from it. The presence of various difficulties in life indicate Dukha is inseparable from life. One should practice Samadhi (thoughtful contemplation). As when one is thoughtful he comprehends the situation and diverts himself from the worldly things making him free from all attachment thus attaining Apavarga which is nothing but cessation of cycle of births and deaths. Liberation from all sorrows is Apavarga. (Pg 52 of Reference [13])

Thus completes the 12 kinds of Prameya. The next section deals with Pramana.

प्रमाणम् ॥ Pramana

Pramana i.e., the instrument of Prama is the most fundamental and unique about the tattva shastras. Few shastras discuss the theories of cognition, but Nyaya darshana deals extensively about the siddhantas of jnana and hence is considered here for explaining the basic concepts.

  • Nyaya : The means of Prama (valid cognition) is termed Pramana as explained by the Vatsyayana bhashya given below.

    प्रमाणतोऽर्थप्रतिपत्तौ प्रवृत्तिसामर्थ्थदर्थवत् प्रमाणम् ।... तस्येप्साजिहासाप्रयुक्तस्य समीहा प्रवृत्तिरित्युच्यते । pramāṇato'rthapratipattau pravr̥ttisāmarththadarthavat pramāṇam ।... tasyepsājihāsāprayuktasya samīhā pravr̥ttirityucyate । (Vats. Bhas. Intro Before Sutra 1)[5]

    Meaning : The effort of the agent (man) stimulated by the desire to acquire (Ipsa । ईप्सा) and the desire to get rid of the thing (जिहासा । Jihasa roga etc) is what is called प्रवृत्तिः (pravrtti । exertion). Two of these together inspire the agent into Prvritti or Action. (Page 20 of Reference [13])

    अर्थस्तु सुखं सुखहेतुः दुखं दुखहेतुश्च । arthastu sukhaṁ sukhahetuḥ dukhaṁ dukhahetuśca । (Vats. Bhas. Intro Before Sutra 1)[5]

    Summary : The अर्थ (object or thing) cognised by means of Pramana, or the instrument of cognition is of four kinds, viz., Pleasure, Source of Pleasure, Pain, Source of Pain. These objects of cognition, however, are innumerable owing to the fact of the number of living creatures being infinite (Page 22 of Reference [13]).
  • Samkhya : The determination of something not (previously) lodged in neither both (Sense-organs and Objects), nor in one or other of them, is Prama, the right knowledge. The instrument of highest degree to obtain a Prama is Pramana; and these are of three types (Pratyaksha, Anumana, Shabda).

द्वयोरेकतरस्य चापि असन्निकृष्टार्थपरिच्छित्तिः प्रमा, तत्साधकतमं यत्तत्त्रिविधं प्रमाणं । सांख्यसूत्र-१.८७ । (प्रमा स्वरूपं, प्रमाणेयत्ता च) dvayorekatarasyavāpyasannikr̥ṣṭārthaparicchittiḥ pramā, tatsādhakatamaṁ yattattrividhaṁ pramāṇaṁ । sāṁkhyasūtra-1.87 । (pramā svarūpaṁ, pramāṇeyattā ca) (Samk. Sutr. 1.87)[8]

According to another scholar Pramana is defined as प्रकृष्टरूपेण अनुमाति अनेन (Page 12 of Reference [2])

"To know an object correctly is a kind of proper measurement of an object. 'knowing' is metaphorically called 'measuring' through our cognition. As a valid cognition gives us a picture of a particular object, it may be described as 'intellectual measurement'."

Various schools of Darshanas, more or less agree with respect to the literal meaning as well as the function or purpose of Pramana that it is conducive to valid knowledge (Prama). While all agree that Pramana is defined as the instrument or Karana of Prama, there is much diversity of opinion among the Darshanika schools as to the exact nature and scope of the karana of valid knowledge. (Pages 39 to 42 of Reference [6])

  • Prabhakara school of Mimamsa considers pramana as an immediate experience (anubhuti) which is different from memory or Smrti.
  • Bhatta school of Mimamsa and Advaita defines pramana as instrument of valid cognition of an object which is previously unknown and is not sublated later on.
  • Samkhya school also defines it as an exceptional instrument of valid cognition.
  • Nyaya and Vaiseshika both accept pramana as instrument of valid cognition - pramakaranam pramanam.
  • Tarka school holds that karana is the uncommon causal condition (asadharana karanam), and pramana is an active special uncommon cause of knowledge or prama.
  • Vishishtadvaita too accepts that pramana is means of valid knowledge, which has for its content something that is adapted to practical needs of life.
  • Dvaita school also accepts that pramana is that which comprehends an object as it is, yatartha pramanam.

प्रमाणसङ्ख्या ॥ Number of Pramanas

There are atleast ten kinds of Pramanas, but in the matter of recognizing different pramanas, different schools of Indian Philosophy adopted divergent schemes. The number of pramanas accepted by the important schools vary from one to eight. (Page 33 of Reference[6])

  1. Charvakas accept pratyaksha pramana (perception) only as a single means of knowledge.
  2. Nastika Darshanas accept pratyaksha (perception) and anumana (inference).
  3. Vaiseshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Dvaita, Visishtaadvaita schools of Uttara Mimamsa recognize 3 Pramanas - pratyaksha (perception), anumana (inference) and shabda or agama (verbal testimony) as the means of knowledge.
  4. Naiyaayikas recognize 4 Pramanas - pratyaksha (perception), anumana (inference), shabda and Upamana (comparison) as the means of knowledge.
  5. Prabhakara school of Purva Mimamsa accepts 5 Pramanas - pratyaksha (perception), anumana (inference) and shabda or agama (verbal testimony) and Upamana (comparison) and arthaapatti (presumption) as the means of knowledge.
  6. Kumarilabhatta school of Purva Mimamsa and Advaita Vedanta of Uttara Mimamsa school both accept 6 pramanas - Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Shabda or Agama (verbal testimony), Upamana (comparison), Arthaapatti (presumption) and Anupalabdhi (negation or non-apprehension) as the means of knowledge.
  7. Pauranikas admit the above 6 with the addition of Sambhava (probability or inclusion) and Aitihya (tradition or rumour).
  8. Tantrikas recognize, along with the above 8, Chesta (indication) as the means of knowledge.
  9. In the Manimekhala, it is said that, according to Vedavyasa and Jaimini, there are two other methods known as Svabhava and Parisesha apart from the other 8 mentioned.
  10. A few other thinkers (Buddhist) accept Pratibha (vivid imagination) as a source of knowledge taking the number of pramanas to eleven.

Of these six of them (Shad Pramanas)have been been discussed at length.

Pramana and Pramanabhasa

The means of knowledge have reference to an object. Pramana produces valid knowledge, the object of which exists in the actual world, whereas, Pramanabhasa produces only illusory knowledge.[2]

प्रमाता ॥ Pramata

तत्र यस्येप्साजिहासाप्रयुक्तस्य प्रवृत्तिः स प्रमाता । tatra yasyepsājihāsāprayuktasya pravr̥ttiḥ sa pramātā । (Vats. Bhas. Intro Before Sutra 1)[5]

Pramata refers to the person involved in action (प्रवृत्तिः) motivated (प्रयुक्ता) by the desire to obtain an object (ईप्सा) or desire to keep away an object (जिहासा).


  1. Harh, Amal Kumar. (1994) Ph. D Thesis Title : The Means of knowing a negative fact a critical study on the theory of Anupalabdhi in Indian philosophy University of North Bengal
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Adhikary, Jaya. (2003) Ph. D. Thesis Title : The Nyaya Concepts of Prama Pramana and Pramanya : A critical study. University of North Bengal
  3. Paper Presentation by Prof. K. Subrahmanayam titled Pramāṇas in Indian Philosophy
  4. Taittriya Aranyaka (Prapathaka 1 Anuvaka 2)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Pt. Gangadhara Sastri Tailanga. (1896) The Nyayasutras with Vatsayana's Bhashya and Extracts from the Nyayavarttika and the Tatparyatika. (Page 48 of PDF) Benares : E. J. Lazarus & Co
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Harh, Amal Kumar. (1994) Ph. D Thesis Title : The Means of knowing a negative fact a critical study on the theory of Anupalabdhi in Indian philosophy. (Chapter 2) University of North Bengal
  7. 7.0 7.1 Tarkasamgraha (Gunalakshana Prakarana)
  8. 8.0 8.1 Samkhya Sutras
  9. Vaiseshika Sutras
  10. Mm. Ganganatha Jha. (Reprint 1978) The Prabhakara School of Purva Mimamsa. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 M. Chandraiah. (2002) Ph. D. Thesis Title : Anupalabdhi as a Pramana. A Critical Study. Tirupati : Venkateswara University
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 Nyaya Sutras (Adhyaya 1 Ahnika 1)
  13. 13.00 13.01 13.02 13.03 13.04 13.05 13.06 13.07 13.08 13.09 13.10 Mm. Ganganatha Jha. (1939) Gautama's Nyayasutras With Vatsyayana Bhashya. Poona : Oriental Book Agency. (Page no 20)