Samkhya Karika 5, How Perception and Inference work as Pramana


Prati-vishayaadhyava saayo drishtam trividham anumaanam aakhyaatam |

Ta linga lingi purvakam apta-shrutir aptavachanam tu ||


Prati – establishing contact with each

Vishaya – Objects which are to be known

Adhyavasaayo – knowledge of

Drushtam – Perception

Trividham – three kinds

Anumaanam – Inference

Aakhyaatam – Known to be as

Tat – that

Linga – middle factor, middle term, the word

Lingi – Major factor, Major term, the object

Purvakam – preceded by

Apta Shrutir – authoritative scriptures, the sruti

Aptavachanam - authoritative persons, the wise, sages

Tu – while


Samkhya karika 5 described the pramanas, as mentioned in the previous karika, in detail. This karika considerably elaborates upon two pramanas ; perception ( Drushtam) and Inference (Anumaanam).Though it also mentions the third pramana, authoritative scriptures and persons( Aptavachanam), but  it is explained in detail only in the next karika. 


Direct Perception – Drushtam as Pramana of Samkhya Philosophy


In order to gain knowledge of any object of the universe the senses of perception, cognition must come in touch with it. Here, all the senses of perception – eyes, ears, skin, nose, and tongue are being talked about and not only the sense of sight. The sense of sight can only help know the colour, shape, or size of the object, this knowledge is incomplete without the addition of how it smells, tastes, sounds, and feels. All these aspects taken together contribute to the complete perception of the object one desires to know about, 


Further, for gaining the perfect knowledge of an object certain conditions are mandatory to be present, in the absence of which the knowledge as received by the organs of perception will be incomplete.


The first condition is that the instruments of perception, as mentioned above, must be in perfect working condition. The ability of the eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue to perceive their respective aspects of the object must be at the optimal level. Weakness in the eyes, or diminished hearing power will not catch the complete knowledge of the object related to their functions.


Secondly, the external factors which can influence the working of the sense organs must be conducive to their respective functions.  Presence of appropriate amount of light, for the optimal functioning of the eyes, and optimal distance of the ears from the object to be able to receive optimal signals of sound are some of the factors which can influence the quality of information received. 


The mind must be fit to receive the knowledge which will be presented by the senses, and the intellect must be sharp enough to grasp the subtleties of information supplied.


A complete perception, or drushtam, can be taken as a pramana (proof) only when it occurs under all the mentioned conditions. Thus the five senses of perception provide the proof of the existence of the 25 elements of Samkhya.


Inference – Anumaanam as a Pramana of Samkhya Philosophy


Infer means to derive by reasoning from evidence available at one’s disposal. Inference is not direct perception though it requires direct perception to deduct the information from by using logic. Inference of knowledge is only possible when some already existing pieces of knowledge, facts, axioms are present. For example, one infers that it is about to rain when we see the sky overcast with dark, thundering clouds. One arrives at this inference as one is acquainted with the pre-existing knowledge of dark clouds and rain. 


Thus the first requirement for the inference to happen is that of the pre availability of  knowledge gained through direct perception ( drushtam)  and all the conditions, and pre-requisites associated with it. Proper inference, which can be taken as proof,  can only take place when there  a substantial database of factual, or axiomatic relations between the cause and effect of various occurrences in the universe is already available.


Next requirement for inference to happen is the presence of a logical, analytical, and rationale mind which can rightly interpret and collate this data. Example of a very basic syllogism or logic involved in making an inference is if all A is C ( first situation), and all B is A ( second situation), than it can be inferred that all B is C. Here the conclusion of the argument is reached by supposing two premises (situations first and second) of which one ( first) contains the terms which is the object of the conclusion ; C, known as Lingi or the major term. 


The second premise contains the subject of the conclusion; B. There is another term which is common to both premises, A, but does not form the part of the conclusion. This common term is known as middle term or Linga. In order to draw an inference one must be pre equipped with the knowledge of the Linga and the Lingi. Putting real life situation two objects in these premises will further help clarify the situation. Suppose you forget that yoga have kept rice on the burning stove for cooking, and your nose picks up the smell of burning coming from the kitchen after some time has lapsed. 


You immediately reach the conclusion that the rice is burning. You already know the cause and effect relationship between the smell of burning ( A) indicates that something is burning (C), now you know that the smell of burning  ( A) is coming from the rice on the stove ( B), thus by applying the mentioned logic you conclude that the rice is burning. Basically, there are three kinds of inferences.

Purvavat – Here we infer the effect ( knowledge) from its cause, e.g. we infer that it is about to rain ( effect, the knowledge) from its cause, the presence of dark clouds in the sky. 


Sesavat -  Here we infer the cause from the effect, e.g. on seeing the road wet ( effect) we infer that it must have rained ( cause). 


Samanyato Drsta – This kind of inference is made based on general observations and instances. Like, if we see one tree blooming, we infer that all the trees of that species would be blooming at that time of the year. It also means that objects with same essence will show similar effects under the presence of right conditions even if we are not able to see the effect on all objects at once due to their geographical distribution. 


It must be clearly mentioned here that both perception and inference as sources of arriving at valid conclusions are limited in their accuracy subject to the availability of the proper conditions for them to function.  One’s senses, Mind, or intellectual faculties may not be in the best working condition which can smudge the clarity on the information, knowledge being derived from the objects of the universe. Most of the scientific knowledge of modern world have been derived by using perception and inference techniques, though this knowledge is prone to update, change from time to time owing to the inherent drawbacks in the two techniques of arriving at factual information.


This karika assumes that the one who undertakes the study of Samkhya philosophy is well versed in language and is able to understand the finer nuances of this subject. There are areas of life like thoughts of the mind, subtle experiences, and the concept of consciousness which are out of the realm of either perception or inference. This is so as both these techniques of proving the existence of 25 elements of Samkhya are limited to the physical world only. Empirical science which strictly depends only upon perception and inference is unable to cogently explain the concept of feelings and emotions. 


Thus, the pramana of apta and agama pitches in to explain such subjective, qualitative, and immeasurable concepts which cannot be quantified for measuring them empirically.  Samkhya philosophy basically talks about understanding the difference between the Material world – Prakriti – and the consciousness – Purusha – and strive to release one of the shackles of the material universe to realise Purusha, the only means to end one’s suffering for good. 


Even after knowing this difference one remains embroiled in the material world which is subject to change – causing pain and suffering – and keeps ignoring the consciousness which is eternal. This happens because the eternal is deeply mixed with the material as salt gets mixed up in water, its very difficult to tell them apart. Out of the six Indian philosophies Samkhya and yoga has much in common than the other four; Nyaya, Vaishehsika, Vedanta and Mimansa. 


Yoga believes in arresting the Citta ( Personality complex) to be able to realise consciousness, Samkhya stresses upon understanding the difference between the material and the consciousness or the Purusha. 

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