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The Advaita Vedant Philosophy: Epistemology and Three Pramana

Read this article to learn about the Advaita Vedant Philosophy!

The Advaita or Non-dualism of Samkara is a unique Indian contribution to philosophical world.

Even before Samkara and also after him, many philosophical systems were developed in India which specialized in the different spheres of philosophy but from the integral spiritual standpoint, the Advaita philosophy holds a position which is unrivalled.

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Samkara’s interpretation of the philosophy of the Upanishads may not satisfy those who follow the path of devotion, but from the standpoint of purely philosophical treatment, it is more satisfactory than many other systems. Thus whether we agree or disagree with the Advaita philosophy, it makes a profound impression by its subtle insight and consistent logic.

Epistemology:

According to Samkara, the so-called means of knowledge do not give us real knowledge. They only remove ignorance, since they are based on the distinction between subject and object. Real knowledge is beyond these and other distinctions. The means of knowledge work only in the field of ignorance. Knowledge requires no means nor any proof, since it is self-illumined and self-proved.

But just as the disappearance of the illusion of snake leads to the real knowledge of the rope, similarly the very removal of ignorance means knowledge. As a matter of fact, there is no sharp line dividing the removal of ignorance and the beginning of knowledge. Knowledge is the disappearance of ignorance since, while knowledge is always existent, it is ignorance that keeps it covered and un-noticed. Hence, knowledge of the self and of the Brahman occupies a prominent place in Advaita philosophy, while epistemology has been given a subordinate place.

Advaita philosophy denies the reality of the truth of name and form as presented by the sense organs, and so it cannot rely upon the knowledge acquired through-senses nor can it make any use of it in support of its contentions, however helpful such knowledge may be in every-day life. Thus according to Samkara, all means of knowledge and all knowledge acquired through them, are unreal from the transcendental standpoint. But one cannot deny their importance in the practical world from the practical standpoint.

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In Vedanta, ‘prama’ means the valid knowledge which is uncontradicted. Prama does not include knowledge through memory. It is that knowledge only which has never been attained before. It may be pointed out here that in perception, the object is known only by linking the present perception with the perception of the moments already passed. But, according to Vedanta, there is only one state of the mind insofar as there is only one object of perception. Hence, there is no question of the antecedent and subsequent.

According to Vedanta, there are three pramanas, viz., perception (Pratyksha), inference (Turku) and scripture (Sruti).

1. Perception:

The identity of the subject and object consciousness by chitta concomitance adopting the form of external object and the object become identi­cal, because in fact both are the same consciousness. The subject and the object remain separate due to the covering of ignorance. But by the direct contact of the antahkarana with the object through the senses, it takes the form of the object and shines in that particular form illumined by the self due to the removal of the covering of ignorance.

This definition of perception, in spite of its being very much imperfect from the scientific standpoint, according to Advaita, clarifies the fact that it is the same consciousness that exists both in the subject and the object, which appear to be separate only due to ignorance.

2. Tarku or inference:

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Inference is the knowledge which results from the past impressions based upon the awareness of concomitance between two terms. The awareness of concomitance leaves the impressions on the chitta and when these impressions are awakened by perceiving that object again, the result is inference.

For example, after being aware of the relation of concomitance between fire and smoke, one can infer about the existence of fire by the awakening of the impression of the awareness of the Vyapti relation. If one finds appearance of silver in the nacre, one may infer on its basis that all things outside Brahman are mere appearance. Hence Vedanta admits only concomitance in presence. It does not admit other types of concomitances admitted by Nyaya philosophy. As against Nyaya philosophy, Samkara admits only three premises of an inference. These are as follows:

(1) Pratijna:

Everything different from Brahman is unreal.

(2) Hetu:

Because all things are different from Brahman.

(3) Udaharana:

So all things are unreal as seeing of silver in nacre.

3. Sruti or Scripture:

In Advaita, Agama or Veda has been admitted as an independent testimony and source of knowledge. The Vedas are impersonal and eternal, though they are not such insofar as they are written scriptures. According to Advaita philosophy, the Vedas begin with the beginning of the creation and disappear with its disappearance.

God begins the creation along with the Vedas. After destruction, they remain in the mind of God who remembers them till the next creation and expresses them on that occasion. Unlike Mimamsa and Nyaya, Advaita philosophy does not admit any need to prove the absoluteness of the Vedas. The Vedas are self-proved. Memory is true only when it is based upon scriptures.

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