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Pramana (IAST Pramāņa) ("sources of knowledge," “measure” Sanskrit) is an epistemological term in Hindu and Buddhism referring to the means by which a person obtains accurate and valid knowledge (prama, pramiti) of the world. In obtaining prama, or correct knowledge, Pramana forms one part of a tripuţi (trio):

  1. Pramāta, the subject, the knower
  2. Pramāņa, the means of obtaining the knowledge
  3. Prameya, the object, the knowable

The three principal means of knowledge are perception, inference, and word. Perception (pratyaksa) is of two kinds, direct sensory perception (anubhava) and such perception remembered (smrti). Inference (anumana) is based on perception, but is able to arrive at conclusions that may not be directly open to perception. The word (sabda) is, in the first place, the Veda, which is considered to be inherently valid. Some philosophers broaden this to include the statements of reliable persons (apta-vakya) in the concept of sabda, and add two more means of obtaining knowledge, analogy (upamana), which enables one to grasp the meaning of a word by analogy of the meaning of a similar word, and circumstantial implication (arthapatti), which appeals to common sense.

Buddhism and Jainism also pursue an understanding of how correct knowledge can be obtained. While rejecting the authority given by Hinduism to the Vedas, they rely on religious texts of their own as a partial source of knowledge. In Buddhism, the two most important scholars of pramana are Dignaga and Dharmakirti, author of Pramana-varttika.

In Hinduism

Different systems of Hindu philosophy accept different categories of pramanas. In general, Vedanta admits to three categories, but the Advaita school distinguishes five.

Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedānta, accepts five categories of pramanas:

  • Pratyakşa—the knowledge gained by means of the senses
  • Anumāna—(Sanskrit: “measuring along some other thing,” or “inference”), the knowledge gained by means of inference
  • Upamāna—the knowledge gained by means of analogy
  • Upamana (Sanskrit: "comparison"), a means of having knowledge of something, in which observance of its similarities to another object provides knowledge of the relationship between the two. For example, when the meaning of a word is unknown, for example, gavaya (Sanskrit: “wild ox”), the similarity of the name to the word gaus (“cow”) will provide knowledge that gavaya is in the bovine family.
  • Arthāpatti—(Sanskrit: “the incidence of a case”), the knowledge gained by circumstantial implication, superimposing the known knowledge on an appearing knowledge that does not concur with the known knowledge,
  • Āgama—the knowledge gained by means of texts such as Vedas (also known as Āptavākya, Śabda pramana)

In Hinduism, the Agamas are an enormous collection of Sanskrit scriptures which are revered as smriti (remembered scriptures). The Vedas, according to strict orthodox Hindu interpretation, are apauruṣeya[1] ("not human compositions"), being supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called śruti ("what is heard"). Not a single line of the Veda is considered to have been the work of human authors; the Veda is held to have existed in the mind of the Deity before the beginning of time.[2] Hinduism, sometimes known as Sanatana Dharma ("Eternal Law"), refers to this belief in the ageless nature of the wisdom it embodies.

The Agamas are the primary source and authority for ritual, yoga, and temple construction. The Shaiva Agamas revere the Ultimate Reality as Lord Shiva (Shaivism). The Vaishnava-Agamas (Pancharatra and Vaikhanasas Samhitas) adore the Ultimate Reality as Vishnu (Vaishnavism). The Shakta-Agamas (Tantras) venerate the Ultimate Reality as Shakti, the consort of Shiva and Divine Mother of the universe (Shaktism). Each set of texts expands on the central theological and philosophical teachings of that denomination.

Agamas deal with the philosophy and spiritual knowledge behind the worship of the deity, the yoga and mental discipline required for this worship, and the specifics of worship offered to the deity. Each Agama consists of four parts. The first part includes the philosophical and spiritual knowledge. The second part covers the yoga and the mental discipline. The third part specifies rules for the construction of temples and for sculpting and carving the figures of deities for worship in the temples. The fourth part of the Agamas includes rules pertaining to the observances of religious rites, rituals, and festivals.

Elaborate rules are laid out in the Agamas for Silpa (the science of sculpture) describing exactly where and how temples are to be built. The Manasara and Silpasara are some of the works dealing with these rules. The rituals followed in worship services each day at the temple also follow rules laid out in the Agamas.

According to Advaita Vedanta, the truth can be known at three levels:

  • The transcendental or the Pāramārthika level, in which Brahman is the only reality and nothing else;
  • The pragmatic or the Vyāvahārika level, in which both Jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Ishvara (the external manifestation of Brahman) are perceived to be true; the material world is completely true.
  • The apparent or the Prāthibhāsika level, in which the material world is perceived as true, but the perception is actually false and illusory, like a dream or the perception of a rope as a snake.


According to the Sankhya school, knowledge is possible through three pramanas:

  • Pratyakşa—direct sense perception
  • Anumānalogical inference
  • Śabda—Verbal testimony


The Nyaya school accepts four means of obtaining knowledge (pramana); Perception, Inference, Comparison and Word.

  • Perception, called Pratyakşha, occupies the foremost position in the Nyaya epistemology. Perception is defined by sense-object contact and is unerring. Perception can be of two types:
    • Ordinary (Laukika or Sādhārana), of six types: Visual perception by the eyes, olfactory perception by the nose, auditory perception by the ears, tactile perception by the skin, gustatory perception by the tongue, and mental awareness of these perceptions by the mind.
    • Extra-ordinary (Alaukika or Asādhārana), of three types: Samanyalakshana (perceiving generality from a particular object); Jñānalakşana (when one sense organ can also perceive qualities not attributable to it, for example, when seeing a chili pepper with the eyes, one knows that it will be bitter or hot); and Yogaja (when certain human beings, through the power of Yoga, can perceive past, present and future and have complete or partial supernatural abilities).

There are two modes or steps in perception: Nirvikalpa, when one just perceives an object without being able to know its features; and Savikalpa, when one is able to clearly and thoroughly know an object and understand it. All laukika (ordinary) and alaukika (extraordinary) perceptions (pratyakshas) are considered “savikalpa.” There is yet another stage called Pratyabhijñā, when one is able to re-recognize something on the basis of memory.

  • Inference, called Anumāna, is one of the most important contributions of Nyaya. The methodology of inference involves a combination of induction and deduction by moving from particular to particular via generality. It has five steps, as in the example shown:

• There is fire on the hill (called Pratijñā, required to be proved). • Because there is smoke there (called Hetu, reason). • Wherever there is fire, there is smoke (called Udaharana, i.e., the “example”). • There is smoke on the hill (called Upanaya, reaffirmation). • Therefore there is fire on the hill (called Nigamana, conclusion). In Nyaya terminology for this example, the hill would be called as paksha (minor term), the fire is called as sadhya (major term), the smoke is called as hetu, and the relationship between the smoke and the fire is called as vyapti (middle term). Hetu further has five characteristics: • It must be present in the Paksha. • It must be present in all positive instances. • It must be absent in all negative instances. • It must not incompatible with the minor term or Paksha. • All other contradictions by other means of knowledge should be absent.

The Nyaya school classified inference into several types: Inference for oneself (Svarthanumana), which does not require any formal procedure; inference for others (Parathanumana), which requires the systematic methodology of five steps; Purvavat (inferring an unperceived effect from a perceived cause); Sheshavat (inferring an unperceived cause from a perceived effect); and Samanyatodrishta (when inference is not based on causation but on uniformity of co-existence). Nyaya gave a detailed analysis of error, explaining when anumana (perception) could be false.

  • Comparison, called Upamana, is the knowledge of the relationship between a word and the object denoted by the word. It is produced by the knowledge of resemblance or similarity, given some pre-description of the new object beforehand.
  • Word, or Śabda, are also accepted as a pramana. It can be of two types, Vaidika (Vedic), which are the words of the four sacred Vedas, and are described as the Word of God, having been composed by God, and Laukika, or words and writings of trustworthy human beings.


Epistemologically, the Vaisheshika school accepts perception (pratyaksha) and inference (anumāna) as valid sources of knowledge.

In Buddhism

Buddhism, along with hard science and classical Western philosophy, rejects many of the premises of Hindu Pramana, especially the use of religious texts (Agama) alone as a source of valid knowledge. Buddhists do, however, rely on their own texts, or agama, as a valid source of some religious knowledge.

In Buddhism, the term agama is used to refer to a class of sutras of the early Buddhist schools, which were preserved in the Mahayana tradition (specifically, in the Sarvastivada, Dharmaguptaka and Mahasanghika schools). Many of the agama sutras belong to the Sarvastivadin canon. These sutras correspond to the first four Nikayas of the Sutta-Pitaka of the Pali Canon. In this sense, agama is a synonym for one of the meanings of nikaya. Sometimes the word agama is used to refer not to a specific scripture, but to a class of scripture. In this case, its meaning can also encompass the Sutta-pitaka, the oldest and most historically accurate representation of the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

The agamas were translated from their original language to Sanskrit, and were later also converted into a version of Sanskrit that used Chinese characters. This version is currently available in the Mahayana Canon. The agamas are commonly compared to the Suttapitaka, and their existence and similarity is sometimes used by scholars to validate the teachings composed in them as a historically authentic representation of the Canon of the First Buddhist Council. Sometimes also the differences between them are used to cast an alternative meaning on the accepted meaning of a sutra in either of the two recensions.

The Buddhist Agamas contain the following scriptures in Chinese translation:

  1. Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya (Madhyama Agamma) and Samyutta Nikaya (Samyukta Agama) of the Sarvastivāda.
  2. Digha Nikaya (Dirgha Agama) of the Dharmaguptaka.
  3. Anguttara Nikaya (Ekottara Agama) of the Mahāsaṅghika.

In Buddhism, the two most important scholars of pramana are Dignaga and Dharmakirti, author of Pramana-varttika (Sanskrit: “Explanation of Evidence”), perhaps the foremost work on Buddhist logic and epistemology, written in the seventh century, when logic had become a dominant concern in Buddhist thought. Dharmakirti's treatises in turn stimulated a great number of commentaries and have become the standard works in their field, especially in Tibet.


  1. Apte, pp. 109-110.
  2. Apte 1965, p. 887

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Dunne, John D. 2004. Foundations of Dharmakīrti's Philosophy. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 086171184X
  • Goodman, Steven D. and Ronald M. Davidson. 1992. Tibetan Buddhism Reason and Revelation. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0585068232
  • Klostermaier, Klaus K. 2000. Hinduism: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld. ISBN 1851682201
  • Mohanty, Jitendranath. 2000. Classical Indian Philosophy. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 0847689328
  • Müller, F. Max. Chips from a German Workshop. London: Longmans, Green, 1867.


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