January 19, Discussion –Sūtra 1.7
Notes by Hannah, Edited by Ram
प्रत्यक्षानुमानागमाः प्रमाणानि। (1.7) [प्रत्यक्ष-अनुमान-आगमाः प्रमाणानि।]
Pratyakṣānumanāgamāḥ pramāṇāni. [Pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni.]
Perception, Inference and scriptures are means of knowledge.
This sūtra defines the first term used in the previous one – pramāṇa. The word pramāṇāni is the plural form of pramāṇa, the word which was part of the compound in (1.6). This is in plural form since there are three pramāṇa-s as stated in this aphorism. The suffix –ani is the effective plural suffix for this noun pramāṇa. The three entities strung together to form a compound shown in its plural form- Pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ – all constitute pramana.
Q: When the sūtra-s were written, and who was the audience?
One of the discussants and Ram: The audience would have been individuals whose primary language was Sanskrit or those who, through traditional learning, had deep knowledge of Sanskrit. Even today in India if you want to study in the classical style, sitting down to understand the nuance of the sūtra-s is possible. Based on the assumption that the same author, Vyāsa, who wrote the commentary to Patañjali, was the one who wrote the Mahābhārata, and the traditional belief of the time when Vyāsa lived, one can say the sūtra-s were written at about the beginning of what is known as the Kaliyuga, or the Iron-age – about 5,100+ years ago. In this Indian concept of historical time, there is a belief that culture goes through a constant devolution over time with each of the four yugas (kṛta, treta, dvāpara and kali) , and that the Kaliyuga is one in which people have the least intellectual ability, desire to adhere to righteousness conduct and self-inquiry. Modern scholars think Patañjali lived about two thousand years ago.
Analysis of words in the sūtra
The word pramāṇa in this sūtra has a different meaning than the one we saw in (1.6), though the word is formed in the same way. This may look a bit confusing but the word formation allows this other meaning as well. For example, in English the same word “thought” is both an abstract noun and past tense form of the verb think. Here the word is used in karaṇārthe, that is, as an instrument of knowledge. So, it is translated as ‘means of knowledge’. This sūtra mentions three means of knowledge:
Pratyakṣa: knowledge gained through direct perception, sensory perception. This is knowledge gleaned directly through the five sense organs (in Indian philosophy, there are 5 organs perception and 5 organs of action). This word pratyakṣa, composed of two component words prati “towards” and akṣi, “eye”. Thus pratyakṣa has the direct meaning ‘going towards the eye’. It is meant to indicate any sensory perception, be it visual, aural, olfactory, gustatory or tactile. Direct perception is considered to be the jyeṣṭaprmāṇa, the pre-eminent means of knowledge. It is given great importance philosophically and culturally, even today. Even so, we all recognize that direct perception cannot be 100% correct. For instance, while we directly observe the Sun setting, we know that it does not truly set; instead, it is the earth’s rotation which causes us to perceive that the Sun sets. Likewise, the earth’s surface appears to us to be flat (a direct observation, or pratyakṣa), but we know the planet to be spherical. This leads us to a discussion on relative strengths of different means of knowledge which is beyond the scope in current context.
Anumāna: inference. This is another means of knowledge. It is based on experience leading to formation of a logical construct. The knowledge gained by inference is not one which can directly be perceived but it is still valid. The traditional example cited is the visual observation of seeing smoke from afar which results in the knowledge of a fire burning at that site. What is perceived is smoke but what is recognized is fire. This is based on an observation based invariant relationship between smoke and fire, the paradigm cited in nyāya, Indian system of logic is ‘where ever there is smoke, there is fire’.
The word is formed thus: (anu) + mā + (ana) = anumāna, the parenthetical terms are prefix and suffix respectively [Refer to anuśāsana from ‘in’ for anu and avasthāna, pramāṇa for ‘ana’, in previous discussions]. The etymological meaning is ‘knowledge after’, the dictionary meaning is inference (which is valid since the term implies a knowledge gained consequent to, based on repeated observations of smoke-fire association). Vyāsa, in his commentary gives the examples of knowledge gained by inference – such as a mountain is not moving and a person is movable.
Āgama: This is translated as “scripture,” but it encompasses a much larger set of knowledge sources. Patañjali’s sūtra-s and Einstein’s theories are both examples of this source of knowledge. The idea here is that words function as a means of knowledge. In the tradition, scriptural knowledge is called śābdam, meaning knowledge gained by spoken words. Since the scriptures do not talk but are in words, they have to be communicated through a teacher and received by the student for the knowledge to take place. Hence a few books of sūtra-translation use ‘words’ as the meaning for this term. In the current context we can understand this to refer to any established authority in any field of learning, whether it is spiritual of secular.
More insight is gained by looking in to word formation. The word is formed thus – (ā) + gam + (a) = āgama, ā, the prefix means complete, total, all-encompassing; the verb gam means ‘to go’, but as a verb of motion it also means ‘to know’; and the suffix a makes this a noun. Etymologically it means complete knowledge. Tradition reserves this to mean scriptures as they reveal complete knowledge of the goal of human pursuits.
Q: Where does bodily knowledge fit into this paradigm?
Ram: By this question you mean feelings and emotions. Like where does feeling hungry, thirsty, cold, hot as well as feeling angry, sad, happy, peaceful etc., Interestingly this leads to another layer of analysis of how one cognizes things. This type of bodily knowledge is given a special term in the tradition, this knowledge is called sākṣībhāsya, illumined by the witness. You do not use your sense organs but this type of cognition is illumined by your true nature, the self-existent, self-evident, self-luminous I. In short you do not need an external thing to perceive what you feel. In this context, the direct perception based knowledge is called indriyajanya / indriyagocara (born of sense organs) in contrast to sākṣībhāsya.
General Discussion / Reflection
Q: How do you connect “I” and the visual perception of a thing? What is this link?
Ram: This is a vexing question haunting both philosophers and scientists nowadays. In discussions of consciousness, experts consider this to be a hard problem. In the commentary to the yogasūtra, the commentator explains how a cognition takes place – as though the citta presents it to the puruṣa.
Q: My teacher describes the mind as having three layers: seer I, doer I, and Being I, where this last one is the I that connects to the super-existence.
Ram: if it helps you to understand better the idea of how one says ‘I know’, good. The basis of this statement is centered on prakṛti and puruṣa. The ‘I’ that connects to the super-existence’ can be taken as the puruṣa while the rest are but layers of the mind, just modifications of prakṛti.
Ram: The focus of Patañjali’s sūtra-s is samādhi. Practice of āsana being one of the limbs, eventually leading to vṛtti-nirodha, which is samādhi. There is an easy way to comprehend this exalted word. Any time where you are not stuck in citta is samādhi. For a fraction of a moment, there is only one, no “you,” and no “object”. And, we all have had these moments, perhaps while walking in the woods, be surrounded by Nature or, at times of great change or upheaval. When standing amongst giant redwoods you no longer see the trees, but experience the vast inter-connectedness of life. At that moment there is no you and no vṛtti and this is samādhi. But then you think, “Oh! Where’s my camera? I must capture this!” and, this samādhi has passed.
The whole point of spirituality is to reach a stage where you can know what is going on inside yourself and the outside world, but not be stuck in it. Striving for this is called religion or spirituality or oneness with Nature, God realization etc., Patañjali is not opinionated. He says that there are many different ways to achieve this state, and he is primarily interested in practice, praxis, not theory. When we think in terms of God or an Ultimate Being, this is still a vrtti. But it is a vrtti that we use to transcend all vrtti-s. We make use of Īśvarapraṇidāna (1.23) as a way to transcend our notion that we are separate selves, islands. There is a reason we call ourselves human beings, not human doings. It is this state of Being, that is at our core, not our ever changing vrtti-s with which we get entangled.