EPISTEMOLOGY – An analysis of knowledge

Epistemology is a branch of Philosophy where jnana (knowledge) is analysed.  It is also said as the science of jnana (knowledge). 

What is jnana?  Does one attain jnana instantly or is it a gradual process?

Jnana according to philosophy is the knowledge of the self (Atma), knowledge of the jagad (world), knowledge about Ishwara (God), the relationship between these three, and about bondage and liberation.  When we analyze jnana it is evident that one attains jnana gradually, in an organized manner.  If one attains jnana in an improper way then it will not help that person as well as the society. 

Now let us see the various aspects of jnana.  The different aspects are

1. Pramaatha – Knower

2. Pramaanam – Instrument of knowledge

3. Prameyam – Object of knowledge

4. Prama – Knowledge we attain

5. Brahma – Wrong knowledge

6. Prayojanam – Benefits of knowledge

These are the six aspects of jnana, which is otherwise known as jnana samagiri.  Now let us see each one of them briefly.

PRAMAATHA – Knower

Pramaatha is the person who has an inclination towards jnana.  If a person has an attitude for jnana then he will attain jnana; otherwise even when he is in a pool of jnana, he will not attain jnana.  No one can push a person into the field of Vedanta.  If a person chooses Vedanta without any other option then this knowledge will not stay with him for long.  Therefore, the mentality of the person who attains jnana is very important.  When a person with good interest and attitude aspire for jnana then he is known as the pramaatha.

A pramaatha must be aware of his ignorance.  He must be able to find his real interest and about the subject he wanted to know.  Others cannot help him much in this matter.  This is not an easy job because our ego will not allow us to reveal our ignorance.  All types of jnana like Vedanta, yoga, meditation, ritual etc, will not suit every person in the same way.  Therefore, the knower must be aware of which one will suit him the most; only then he will be able to continue in it.  This is known as prameya nischaya. 

He must decide from which institution or from which Guru he need to attain jnana; regardless of whether he is accepted by that institution or that Guru, he must know from where he would like to acquire jnana.  This is called pramaana nischaya. 

After deciding all these he must prepare himself to attain jnana.  For example, if he wants to attain knowledge in Vedanta, then he must practice chitta shudhi, purity of mind.  This is known as pramathru siddhi.

Sometimes we are aware of all these and we go through these processes consciously.  Sometimes everything falls in its own place due to our previous good deeds (puniya).  Dharma (right action) and shraddha (faith) protects a person even though he has low intellectual power.

PRAMAANAM – Instrument of jnana (knowledge)

It is not possible to attain jnana without a right pramaana.  There are six types of pramaana used in Philosophical studies. 

1. Pratyaksha pramaana – It is the jnana attained through the five sense organs like reading scriptures, directly seeing divine places or hearing Vedantic discourses etc.

2. Anumana pramaana – It is attaining jnana by reasoning, by using logic and coming to conclusion.  It is commonly known as yukti.  For example, if you see smoke at a distance then we conclude that there is fire. 

3. Arthapatti pramaana – It is attaining jnana by presumption.  It is moreover like anumana pramaana.  For example if we see a wet road, we presume that it has rained.

4. Upamana pramaana – It is the knowledge we attain by comparing one’s experience with others experience.

5. Sabda pramaana – It is the knowledge we attain through vakyam (sentences). 

Sabda pramaana has two divisions.  They are the lowkika sabda pramana and vaithika sabda pramana. 

Lowkika sabda pramaana is the knowledge we gain through books and through the experience of others. 

Vaithika sabda pramaana is the knowledge we attain from the Veda.  It is otherwise known as Veda sabda pramana. 

6. Anupalapti pramaana – It is the knowledge of non-existence.  It is about knowing the absence of an object or matter. 

3. PRAMEYAM – Object of knowledge

Prameyam has three categories.  They are the jagad jnana, dharma jnana, and Brahma jnana. 

Jagad jnana is the jnana about the five basic elements, its corresponding subtle tattwa and their different combinations.  All the branches of science, arts, engineering, medicine etc comes under this category. 

Dharma jnana – it is the jnana about the righteous acts, its consequences.  It also tells about the actions to be avoided and the consequences of it if they are not avoided.  The basic principle of this jnana is what is right for my mind and emotions is right for others.

Brahma jnana – it is the knowledge of the Self attained through the scriptures.  It is the subjective knowledge and not subject to change.  One must be sharp enough to grasp the illusive nature of this world. 

4. PRAMA – Jnana (knowledge)

When a pramaata (knower, student), using pramaana (instrument of knowledge, senses), when he touches the prameya (object of knowledge), the thought that arises in the mind is prama (knowledge).  Prama shows the exact nature of the object/subject.  We often refine our action in a positive way according to our jnana.  If we superimpose our ideas or if we understand it according to our will, then it is the viparita jnana (wrong jnana). 

Sattvika jnana helps one to see the unity in diversity.  Rajasika jnana makes one to see this world as different parts.  It clearly differentiates between objects.  Tamasika jnana makes one to see the part as the whole.  It does not give a clear picture of the world.  Arrogance and ignorance hides the real world.  Sattva guna leads to faith in sattvic life and this gives sattvic jnana.

5. BRAHMA – Wrong understanding

Brahma is wrong jnana.  It is also said as viparita jnana.  When we see an object we superimpose our own idea on it and we do not see the object as such; as a result we get a distorted image of the object.  In sanskrit, this is known as adhyasam, meaning (superimposition).  For example, when we see a rope, we superimpose a snake on the rope.  It is to assume something in the place where it is not present.  The same instrument of knowledge which gives the right jnana is also responsible for the wrong jnana.  If the jnana is wrong then it is very difficult to understand that we have acquired wrong jnana; moreover, if we acquire wrong jnana then it is difficult to remove it.  Right knowledge is to know exactly the object as it is.  Right knowledge shows the presence and absence of an object just like a light illumining the object.  Sometimes our sense organs may give wrong knowledge.  What we see may not be the reality.  In such places one must use anumana pramaana (reasoning) to get right knowledge.  There is a famous saying, ‘You will never know what it is.  You would like to know what you want to’.  Impurities in the mind give a distorted image of the real.  When we gain chitta shuddi, only right knowledge will enter the mind. 

Sometimes we may have jnana.  However, we fail to implement it and that jnana is very weak.  Therefore, it is important to attain jnana through proper source and it must be used to implement the right values in life.   

6. PRAYOJANAM – Benefits of jnana

There are two types of jnana.  They are karma sadhanam and jnana sadhanam.

Karma sadhanam :  Even after attaining jnana one must practice it to get benefit from it.  For example, even after knowing about yoga asanas, one must practice it to get full benefit from yoga.  This is known as karma sadhanam.

Jnana sadhanam  :   Jnana itself will give immediate benefit.  For example, when the mind does not have any impurities, then the mahavakyas itself will give immediate jnana.  Jnana sadhanam is only applicable to Brahma jnana.  All the other worldly jnana needs practice and they belong to karma sadhanam.

These are the different aspects of jnana.  All our actions, judgment, emotions, behaviour are based on our jnana.  Therefore, it is important to attain jnana from the right source.