How pratyakṣa is given by śabda

Frequently one comes across the concept that Kṛṣṇa’s names are Kṛṣṇa Himself. The reason this is a difficult concept is that śabda or a word, in our experience, at best gives parokṣa jñāna or knowledge that is obstructed from the seer or subject’s perception in some way. If we hear the word ‘apple’ in a conversation, we do not start to experience the object ‘apple’ – its form, its taste and so on.

The definition of pratyakṣa jñāna or direct perceptual knowledge in nyāya

For most, knowledge received through the senses is the very definition of direct or pratyakṣa jñāna. For example, when we taste an apple with our own tongue, we say that we directly experienced it – the apple was aparokṣa or immediate to us (the words “immediate knowledge” means knowledge unobstructed from us by anything else). Likewise with seeing and so on. Indeed, this is also the definition of pratyakṣa in nyāya which goes like this –

इन्द्रिय-सन्निकर्षजन्यं ज्ञानं प्रत्यक्षम् – The perceptual knowledge resulting from contact between a sense and its sense object is प्रत्यक्ष ज्ञान.

śabda can give pratyakṣa jñāna

In his ongoing lectures on the Vedānta paribhāṣā, Śrī Babaji explains how Advaitins, that is the followers of Śankarācārya, insist that śabda or words can give aparokṣa jñāna or direct knowledge of external or internal objects within our perceptual range . This is a key precept of Advaita-vāda, and Śrī Jīva Goswami also accepts it.

The Advaitins first explain how śabda can give pratyakṣa jñāna even in normal dealings. They tell the story of daśama tvam asi or ‘you are the tenth’. Śrī Babaji’s version is as follows:

Ten people crossed the Yamuna from its Northern bank to its Southern bank. When they reached the Southern bank, they counted themselves and found only nine! There was a big uproar – we have lost the tenth. Unknown to them, their counting was the problem. Each time, the counter would forget to count himself. A kindly sadhu was walking by and heard the commotion. He asked them to line up with the counter in the last position. One, two, three, and … daśama tvam asi – you are the tenth! When the tenth in line heard this, he knew – “I am the tenth”. The sadhu repeated this for each of them and each got pratyakṣa jñāna.

The idea is that the words ‘you are the tenth’ conveyed the direct perceptual knowledge to each person that they were the tenth person.

In the same way, one may see Jupiter in the sky but not recognize it as Jupiter. One is thus in ignorance of it. But if someone points to it and tells us, “that is Jupiter”, one gets aparokṣa jñāna, direct knowledge of it.

Ignorance can only be truly removed by aparokṣa jñāna or direct knowledge.

śabda can give nirvikalpaka jñāna or indeterminate knowledge

Now knowledge conveyed by śabda can be determinate, that is qualified knowledge, or indeterminate, that is, unqualified knowledge. The concept of unqualified knowledge can be understood by analogy-

‘so ‘yam devadatta’ — this is that Devadatta

Here, one recognizes a person named Devadatta whom one may have seen somewhere else in the past, say in Kāśi. Seeing the person in Vṛndavāna, one recognizes him. But how does the recognition occur? One recognizes the person by removing the upādhis or qualifiers like time (past versus present) and space (Kāśi versus Vṛndavāna). This is analogous to indeterminate perception in that the cognition occurred of the object without relation to its qualifiers. In contrast, the words ‘you are the tenth’ convey qualified knowledge or sambandha jñāna, between the word ‘tenth’ and the word ‘you’.

In the statement

tat tvam asi – you are that

the upādhis related to presence (of tvam or you) and absence (of tat or Brahman) are removed, and only the consciousness underlying the two is equated. Again, this sentence conveys indeterminate knowledge lacking any perception of a relation between the words tat and tvam.

śabda gives pratyakṣa jñāna to one who is qualified

Unlike daśama tvam asi, where immediate perceptual knowledge dawns as soon as the sentence is heard, tat tvam asi seems to produce no such immediate perception in a casual hearer. Yet, the object to be perceived is at hand- one’s own self (tvam). So why does this statement not produce immediate knowledge?

The same can be asked about Kṛṣṇa’s name. Chanting His name does not produce immediate perception of Him. Why?

The answer is that śabda, or śāstric statements first give us parokṣa jñāna or indirect or obstructed knowledge. We understand the meaning of these statements theoretically but aparokṣa jñāna does not happen owing to the fact that we are not qualified yet to experience it. Thus we chant the name Kṛṣṇa but it remains a śabda to us. It is conscious and has the power to present itself directly to us, and all the sādhanā is to become qualified to experience the name Kṛṣṇa in a direct way.


The foregoing discussion can be understood through analogy. A blind man holds an apple in his hand and is told that the object in his hand is an apple. But he can’t see it, so he continues to have parokṣa jñāna or indirect knowledge of the apple. In the same way, śāstric statements give indirect knowledge to us in the beginning. If we follow the methods in śāstra, it reveals direct knowledge to us. This is similar to restoring sight to the blind man. He can then see the apple and say, “this is an apple”.

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