Motive behind the questions: Shri Adi Shankara, asks the same question in many places in his commentary on Prasthana Traya. For example, in his introduction to Brahma Sutras, also called as Adhyasa Bhashya, He rhetorically wonders "How can anyone confuse the unreal with the real?". This is because the BMI is inherently jada (insentient), while Atman, the seer behind the BMI is inherently chetana (sentient). How can anyone confuse the unreal with the real? If one confuses different levels of reality, then they may be excused. What is the excuse for this confusion? Where did such a kind of confusion originate from? Shri Shankara blames this confusion to adhyasa (superimposition), which is our ignorance, and proceeds to dispel it as non-existent in many ways. (Shri Shankara uses similar concepts in many places on his Gita commentary: for example on his commentary for BG 2.16 or BG 13.2).
Knowledge and its means: The above concept of superimposition is close to Knowledge and the means of knowledge. Since it is due to our ignorance that we are confusing unreal from real, the latter which is ever existent and the former never ever(!), one of the first steps should be to define what Knowledge is, what are its valid means, and what are is the answer to the *meta*-questions like: "How do we know what we can know?", "How do we know that we know?". If such a definition is made precise, then we can separate knowledge from ignorance. Also close to the concept of knowledge is the means of acquiring it. It is like constructing a precise sieve, which will separate the knowledge rice from the ignorance husk. Then, using the sieve, one can separate the superimposition from the real stuff, continually asking the question "Is it this? Is it this?" and continuing uttering to oneself "Not this, Not this". These definitions and other concepts have been done in the classic book "Vedanta Paribhasha" (VP) by Dharamaraja Adhvarindra (DA), a 17th century Advaitic philosopher from India.
Is the systematic study of pramANa required? Yes and No.
State 2: Yes because, given the all pervasive nature of the (non-existent) avidya, we need a systematic study of the tools needed to understand its nature. In the end, we will realize that none of the tools have the power to know the nature of the Self, which is beyond the reach of any of these.
State 1: No because brahman is defined to be one that is unattainable by any of these. So, how will such a systematic study help us? For people who are at such an advanced stage that they see the true nature of the fleeting universe, it is not needed.
So, it is clear that one needs to get from state 2 (of yes: they are needed) to state 1 (of no: pramanas are not needed). (Is the movement from State 2 to State 1 a application of Vedantic method of adhyaropa-apavada? I do not know.)
In short, the study of pramANas is needed to know that the study of pramANas is not needed! (Thanks to Sada-ji who used this another context.)
Here are some references:
- In introduction, he explains the valid means of knowledge, according to the six major philosophical systems of India. It should be noted that the means of knowledge defined by Advaita are the same as that for Bhatta Mimamsa (a major branch of Mimamsa: after Kumarila Bhatta, whom Adi Shankara met).
- Here he explains inference (anumana), one of the six means of knowledge.
- In this link on Shabda Pramana, he explains the concept of Verbal Testimony as a valid means of knowledge.
- From RK Math, St. Louis,
- From Shri Dennis-ji's page
- The amazon page
- a picture of Swami Satprakashananda
Happy search for Knowledge!
May the Goddess of Knowledge shower Her divine grace upon us.