1.7 Proof and Beyond
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI | CHAPTER 1 - SAMADHI PADA | VERSE 7 | COMMENTARY
Pratyakasha anumana agamah pramani.
प्रत्यक्षनुमानागमाः प्रमाणानि ॥१.७॥
Pratyakṣa̅numa̅na̅gama̅ḥ prama̅ṇa̅ni ||1.7||
Evidence based cognition, inference and testimony are the sources of Pramana.
Maharishi Patanjali gives the three sources of information/knowledge through which the mind manifests in Pramana Vritti – or Right Knowledge.
The first source of Pramana is Pratyaksha - knowledge is which is directly available – one sees a flower and smells it; it is a proof that the flower has some fragrance. We hear a child crying and see a crying child in front of us, it is proof of why we heard crying.
It is possible that what the senses tell us may be wrong. The senses are only as good as the mind that perceives the sensory information. A very common example is a mirage: a sailor sees land after spending months at sea, or a weary lost traveler may see an oasis in a desert. The mind has become addled and is unable to perceive the information the senses are actually perceiving. When we wake up in the morning, the first thing we do is sense if we are in the same place where we fell asleep – it is so subtle and so momentary, we do not even realise it. Let’s take a situation – while you were sleeping, you were put in a different house in a room where article is exactly like your room down to the last detail and you are not aware of it. The room smells exactly the same too. You wake up – will you know you have been moved from your room to a different location? Your eyes, ears and nose will tell you that you are in the same place. If you are not really one to look around your surroundings, you may just walk past the desk. But it is improbable. Even when the senses are sending information that it is your room, your survival bell will start ringing alarmingly. You will know in your core that you are in a foreign place. Therefore, while your direct cognition tells you otherwise, you will know for certain, without proof, that you have been moved. The entire basis of modern science is proof – only that which can be proved by our current limited means is correct, everything else can be called wrong. Yes, it is an admirable quality to question everything around, to try to be better and look for solutions where it may have been earlier declared there are none. But it has turned out many times that which science has stated to be impossible, but was written in old scriptures turned out to be true eventually. The existence of Platypus is a famous example – a duck faced animal, with a body of an otter and a tail of a beaver which hunted underwater, laid eggs and fed it’s young with milk had to be a hoax. The locals kept on insisting of its existence but it had to be impossible since it had not been directly cognized by the scientists, and there was no reason to believe the locals, and there was no book with details of such a species. The limited knowledge upon which mind stands firmly sometimes does not leave room for new information to enter. In our daily life, there are several occurrences where our mind jumps to look for proof by sensory perception. We demand that the love be proved; many relationships become burdens because the partners become paranoid and at every turn demand for some kind of gesture to prove love, respect and affection.
The second source of Pramana is inference – Anumana. The knowledge thus obtained is based on reasoning and experience. The knowledge is right knowledge or Pramana if it based on sound reasoning. A person happily jumping while watching a sports match can correctly cause someone to infer his preferred team is winning the match – our years of experience of our own behavior in such situations has given us experience. The titrations done in Chemistry lab to find out the salt had two steps – while one gave a category of salt which was inferenced by precipitation or the color obtained after a generic test, the specific salt was known only after doing the second test. The procedure of the second test was based on the inference. We all try to guess the breakfast by the smell wafting around the house, we try to guess why mother was in a foul mood that day and decide not to bring the new dress that we wanted. Experience and sound reasoning could in daily lives provide us with answers to why something happened even though we ourselves had not observed the “why” event.
We spend a lot of time in this vritti – we try to guess why someone said so and so to us, why someone acts the way we do and try to put labels on personalities and try to come with theories to explain events from very limited information. Historians spend their lives trying to pinpoint particular events and particular people that caused wars, revolutions and historic changes in the course of civilization. In such cases, in my opinion, I feel there is no one person or one event that can cause such a change in trajectory of civilisation. Those events happen simply for the reason they had to happen – no other explanation can be complete and satisfying.
The last source of Pramana is collective knowledge, or something that has been written. Traditionally it meant the knowledge contained the ancient scriptures, or the testimony of a very learned person who surely has right knowledge. Such testimony could provide the right knowledge even if the person receiving it has not directly perceived it, and has no hints to infer it. The knowledge of Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita is said to be infallible because it has not been authored by humans but was perceived in higher states of consciousness. It was obtained from the cosmic consciousness which holds all knowledge there is. Fundamentally, Agama means that which is believed by a lot of people. Today, WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts and Twitter comments are Agama. People blindly believe what is written there about unaware citizens, celebrities, and politicians. Death hoaxes, cancer fundraisers, and celebrity scandals make the rounds and are talk of class rooms and office lunch tables. There is no proof of these news items except that it has been found in collective knowledge. One is not afraid to be a fool when there are a thousand fools to stand with. It has become so ingrained in our habits, that we have lost the ability to form personal opinions. We even like or dislike YouTube videos based on the comments of other people. If a few hundred people have praised a scene, we would too even if we find it distasteful or do not understand it all because we are afraid to stand on our cognition. Therefore, even Agama needs to be reliable for it to be Pramana
The mind manifests solidly with some proof, otherwise it is shaky. In our day-to-day life, there are a lot of instances when Pramana Vritti is necessary, even necessary for survival. Intelligence and Security Services especially scour for every scrap of proof before making any decisions. Hence, it is not to be understood here that this category of thought process should be done away with. For meditation it is not required. There are many aspects that logic cannot easily explain, where proof falls short and only faith can bring experience that establishes you. You do not need any proof to know you exist. You know it in your deepest depths. Even when the mind dissolves, you shall experience that you are. Those who have experienced meditation can tell you the state of thoughtlessness when they existed but there were no thoughts. There was no Pramana for the mind to manifest. Therefore, becoming aware of this vritti and subduing it can free the mind from a lot of impressions, can bring a lot of harmony where logic alone cannot stand, and take you into meditation and rest.