Friday, May 04, 2007

Tarka Sastra - the way of logic.

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

Following on the thread from before, lets see if we can explore the science of reasoning or logic as based on the vedic darshanas. As observed by one of our readers, this might come in handy during many a theological debate!

Among the shaddarshanas (or the 6 systems) that are part of the Hindu philosophy, there is one called Nyaya. This darshana called Nyaya, of which the author is the sage Gauthama, is also known as Tarka sastra - or the science dealing with the system of logic and reasoning. Its main objective is to establish through a step by step process of reasoning that the creator of this world(s) is the supreme Parameshwara. And as such, reasoning and logic play a very pivotal role in this sastra.

Quite contrary to what one might imagine, logic or reasoning is quite important in any kind of study - (the observant reader might notice that this is even quite contrary to what I said in my previous post, but such is the nature of things!). And before those of you rooting for logic shout 'whoopdidoo', I would like to mention that there are quite a few 'rules' that establish the method of application of such logic - that is the logic spoken of here and not the kind of logic invented by people to merely contradict the original argument, without keeping in line with the established method of applying such logic. The paramacharya gives an example here - like when we construct the pandal (the canopy) with bamboos during a wedding, we test the poles for strength and durability by shaking the poles and making sure that the entire thing doesn't collapse. Similarly, truths too (even when uttered by the Vedas) must be subject to the proper tests to make sure they are indeed truths. That is more or less the premise of Nyaya and it goes further by trying to establish the framework or ground rules for such logical reasoning. I am no expert in the nyaya sastra, but am familiar with some of the basics to draw a picture of it for you here.

It lays down that in such (theosophical and philosophical) debates, all logical reasoning must be accepted - but such logic must be rooted firmly in authority (read vedas). Moreover such arguments should not be made merely out of an urge to be contrary. Hence it becomes clear that one's arguments must not be captious in nature and that in order to deal properly with a question we must employ 'proper' reasoning keeping in line with the vedas. That is to say, without proper reasoning to guide us it is like wandering aimlessly in the jungle. Having said that it has to be understood that such reasoning must be founded on authority (of the pramanas). The darshana authored by the sage Kaanada called Vaisheshika is also another nyaya sastra, but its level of enquiry is sort of 'sub atomic' and goes to a microscopic level and examines the specialities or particularities of everything. Here in this thread related to logic and proper reasoning we will deal more with the tarka sastra or nyaya.

The Nyaya method of inquiry in to truth is through a triad of instruments of knowledge - some hold that there are four, but I will later on in the post establish that the four too fall under or can be effectively explained under the three 'group heads'. And these are - Pratyaksha, Anumana, and Sabda (there is a fourth category called Upamana according to some). Lets look into them a bit more in detail through one of the aphorisms of sankhya (yet another darshana and this time authored by the sage Kapila), which holds that there are three kinds of proof through which a truth (any truth) can be established.

Proof is of three kinds: there is no establishment of more; because, if these be established, then all [that is true] can be established [by one or other of these three proofs]. - 1.88.

Of the three kinds of proof the first is Pratyaksha - Pratyaksha means 'direct perception'. That which is perceived by the eyes, ears nose etc. The second is Anumana - anumana means 'inference' or the recognition of signs. The third is Sabda - sabda means 'testimony' or the words of authority. Here the authority does not mean a president or sect leader or any such thing, it refers to pramana (vedas & c) which really is the source of inference or anumana. Of the above three mentioned kinds of proof, nyaya focuses and discusses mainly using what is termed anumana or inference. And it is probably because, often (when discussing or trying to establish god etc) we cannot directly perceive it and also because the final kind of proof called sabda or testimony (namely the vedas) is true only because they are revealed by the Brahman, but in our case it is the very existence of Brahman that we are trying to prove! So, anumana or inference is the very core of the system.

Just a brief example with an illustration will shed more light here, and perhaps if interest in you the reader is tickled, we might be able to explore this in better detail in another post.
For example when we see a fire burning in front of us we can decide that there is in fact a fire and thus confirm that the occurrence of fire in such and such a spot is true. This is pratyaksha or direct perception of truth. In the second instance, let us imagine that there is a fire on a mountain some distance away. Now, we cannot from where we stand see the actual fire (perhaps its too far away or maybe hidden from view by a large rock or whatever). But we can see smoke rising in the air from there. By perceiving a sign (namely the smoke) of fire, we infer that there must be a fire there on the mountain as we can see the smoke. Note that this inference of fire based on the smoke, is made as it is established without doubt that smoke arises from fire always - the universality of the sign and its connection to the actual truth (in this case the fire) has already been established beyond doubt. So the perception of smoke is solid enough for us to decide that the occurrence of fire on the mountain is in fact true - based on the inference upon perception of the sign of fire (smoke) and logically understanding its connection to the fire itself. This method of enquiring and establishing truth is called anumana or inference. Now in the third instance to illustrate what was mentioned before as upamana let us see the following example : we go to a mountain temple. There we see that there is an old and unused room that has been used for long as a kitchen. Now, there is no fire burning there when we go so pratyaksha is out. There is also no smoke, in fact there is no coal, embers, fire pit, nothing at all there to directly infer the existence of a fire there now or before. But on closer examination we see that the walls and the roof of the room are covered in black smoke stains. The evident smoke stains lead us to infer (indirectly) that there was a fire in that place sometime in the past, as the smoke stains must be from smoke and that smoke must have been from the fire. This method of inference from another inference is upamana, and in the triad of instruments of knowledge mentioned originally, this falls under the bigger category of anumana (while others make this into a separate fourth category). Thus from the smoke stains we can prove that there was once a fire there.
In the fourth instance, we go to a mountain temple. There we see an old room. But that room is so ancient that it has all but crumbled - there are hardly any walls, no roof, in fact all that there is are only a few pieces of stone. We see no signs, direct or indirect, to infer the existence of a fire there. How are we then to confirm that there was a fire there once? In such cases we turn to sabda or testimony (of the vedas and pramanas). Since in plenty of instances it has been established beyond doubt that the words of the supreme brahman (as the veda) is the eternal truth, we look towards the testimony of the vedas to confirm that there was once a fire in this place. And if it is so mentioned in the sabda, it establishes the truth that there was a fire there - even if that fire cannot be perceived or inferred through the best of our ability. Note that the ultimate authority of the sabda is invoked only when all other instruments have failed to deliver the proof to every one's satisfaction.

Thus if the above mentioned structure and method was used in the exercise of deliberating the existence of God or any other such cosmic truth, a logical and scientific proof can be arrived at - most certainly. But the proponents of each view should be educated enough in the tarka sastra and its methodology to have some constructive result through reasoning. Merely contrary questioning and reverse arguments will only lend to more confusion than we began with. I do not (now for my two cents worth) for a second doubt that such clear and logical analysis will fail to deliver an insight into truth - after all, the entire darshana of Sankhya is based on such logic and through it the author has successively described and proven the existence of prakruti and purusha and the subsequent birth of the many tattvas and the subtle and gross universe(s) and all life.

I will finish this post now hoping that it will have shed some light on the subject in question and that it will have all of you thirsting for more!


Anonymous said...

Very Good article about Tarka with a clear example