My perspectives of Patanjali Yog Sutra, article 5: The three-fold path to acquire correct knowledge about self and world.

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After having understood the nature of the mind and its fluctuations, Sage Patanjali enlightens us about the next level of self-realization. As we have understood so far, Knowledge also is a fluctuation of mind which if not correct, can distract the seer (Yoga aspirant or soul) from the path of Samadhi. It is a self-established fact that we can overcome the influence of mind only by understanding its true nature or having correct knowledge about self & world.

In his next aphorism Sage Patanjali talks about ‘correct knowledge’ of nature or existence.

He quotes,

प्रत्यक्षानुमानाअगमाः प्रमाणानि ॥

Translation: “You obtain correct knowledge by 1) your senses, 2) through inference, or 3) from a reliable source”

प्रत्यक्ष (pratyaksha) means our perception based on our direct experience or on what is present in front of our eyes.

अनुमाना (anumana) means act of inferring or drawing a conclusion from given set of situations or premises we are surrounded by.
अगमा (agamah) means learning from authority or a reliable testimony who is well educated about these concepts.
This aphorism introduces us to the fact that, “Truth exists, and there is a process for straining truth from fiction.”  This process, though is carried by observation and logical inquiry, it is based on internal ways of knowing which is the journey of Yoga.

What we generally interpret the aphorism is that these ways i.e., pratyaksha, anumana & agamah are three separate ways to know the truth or gain correct knowledge.  But my interpretation about the aphorism is that the ‘truth or knowledge’ must be able to pass the test of all three paths to be termed as correct knowledge.

As we can see pratyaksha (direct experience) is listed first, because the other two modes i.e., anumana & agamah are extension of this direct and personal form of understanding.

To reach a real understanding of any concept, we must “know” it by experiencing it directly.

Consider an example; We see people going for mountain climbing and by seeing their photographs or listening to their experiences we can understand the beauty of mountain climbing but until we ourselves climb the mountains we cannot experience and understand the true bliss of doing so.

Similarly, we can receive an introduction to many spiritual concepts through written or oral teachings, but until we directly experience the concepts for ourselves, we cannot understand them.

The next source Anumana, is a characteristic of our logical consciousness i.e., buddhi and relies on direct perception as an entry point. In our previous article of the series we have seen Sage Vyasa’s explanation of Buddhi.

About pratyaksha he comments that it focuses on differences as our senses respond to change more than stability.  Anumana, on the other hand, focuses on similarities.

The buddhi or our logical consciousness sorts and compares information, looking for any connections present.

Finally, the truth can be found in agama, or authoritative testimony. It can come from contemporary or traditional teachers or from scriptures.

For agama to give valid understanding, the source of knowledge must be a “trustworthy person,” who is someone with insight, compassion, and clear observation.  An authority who is unhindered by his own vrittis is the best reliable source.

We have to always verify the information received from the testimonies with our logical minds (anumana) and comparing it to our own direct experience (pratyaksha).

The correct knowledge gained through these 3-stage filter process of refinement will always take the seer (aspirant) towards his goal of Samadhi because he will be in a position to overcome the influence of his own mind’s modifications.

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1 Comment

  1. Sham Vaidya says:

    ॐ Sahna, you have added a new dimension to the meaning of Ygsutra ” प्रत्यक्षानुमानागमाः प्रमणानि।” Very nice to read it!

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