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Pramana refers to sources of knowledge in Indian epistemology.

The wikipedia article on Pramana states:

Buddhism holds two (perception, inference) are valid means ... to knowledge.

This sutta supports Pratyakṣa or perception:

“And what, bhikkhus, is The All? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and odours, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile objects, the mind and mental phenomena. This is called The All.

“If anyone, bhikkhus, should speak thus: ‘Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all’—that would be a mere empty boast on his part. If he were questioned he would not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain.”
SN 35.23

Are there examples in the suttas where the Buddha, or his Arahant teacher disciples like Sariputta, used Anumāna or inference? Please provide them.

Let's say, when you wake up from sleep and go outside your house to observe the ground to be wet everywhere, but it's currently not raining. So based on this observation, you can infer that it must have very recently rained. Is there any truth of the suttas that is not observed directly by perception but rather inferred from indirect evidence?

Another example is evolution. We cannot observe that humans evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees. However, we can infer that indirectly from fossil evidence. This is obtaining knowledge from inference.

There can be other examples, like how the ancients inferred that Earth must be spherical from the way shadows fell on the ground differently in different cities at the same time.

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  • This question requires more precision with terminology. Commented Mar 22 at 19:47
  • I’m voting to close this question because this question does not appear to be about Buddhist philosophy, teaching, and practice, within the scope defined in the help center. Commented Mar 23 at 0:56
  • Just listen to some krishnamurti's talks on YouTube. It's not equal to the Buddhas. But you understand the tone of a Buddha by listening to the tone of the krishnamurti. I think they should be alike. They don't use inferences, but facts. I think Buddha's tone would be more advance, soft, appropriate than krishnamurti's.
    – Pycm
    Commented Apr 23 at 16:28
  • Add to above, if you listen to krishnamurthy, you may think omg, he doesn't know anything, all he does is ask questions from others. Is that the truth? No. Right? He is asking others to inquiry themselves. That's same for Buddha. Buddha ask questions, use arguments, thought patterns looks like inferences. But all that is to guide others. Not to learn for himself.
    – Pycm
    Commented Apr 23 at 18:42
  • Did anyone listen to krishnamurthy? Somebody may not be able to see that he is not speaking Buddha's words, because current Buddhist books/views/religion in very much clouded by extra stuff than true Damma. I consider krishnamurthy as an true Buddhist. His all the videos / speeches are about removing self and becoming free from suffering. As people should know, Buddha didn't create the religion or Buddhism; others did. Remember, 2500 years.
    – Pycm
    Commented Apr 24 at 13:55

5 Answers 5

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I'm not sure what "Anumāna or inference" mean.

One English dictionary defines it as follows:

inference

  1. something that is inferred
    especially : a conclusion or opinion that is formed because of known facts or evidence
  2. the act or process of inferring (see INFER): such as
    1. the act of passing from one proposition, statement, or judgment considered as true to another whose truth is believed to follow from that of the former
    2. the act of passing from statistical sample data to generalizations (as of the value of population parameters) usually with calculated degrees of certainty

I guess that one of these forms is logically dubious, or not always theoretically sound -- for example, "I cannot see my mother, therefore she must be hiding in the closet", might not be a true/valid inference ... and might be a reason for advice like, don't trust flights of logic, only what you can actually perceive.

But the other form, i.e. generalizations -- I think that the Dhamma does a lot of that ... for example "(these) perceptions are impermanent, apparently all perceptions are impermanent".

I think that's part of the genius of the Buddha as a teacher -- i.e. to infer useful generalizations and "universal truths".

Also I'm not sure whether SN 35.23 excludes inference to only include perception -- because if the Dhamma is inferred, isn't it also a "mind object" or perceived by the mind.

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  • Let's say, when you wake up from sleep and go outside your house to observe the ground to be wet everywhere, but it's currently not raining. So based on this observation, you can infer that it must have very recently rained. Is there any truth of the suttas that is not observed directly by perception but rather inferred from indirect evidence?
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 22 at 23:44
  • Another example is evolution. We cannot observe that humans evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees. However, we can infer that indirectly from fossil evidence. This is obtaining knowledge from inference.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 23 at 0:00
  • There can be other examples, like how the ancients inferred that Earth must be spherical from the way shadows fell on the ground differently in different cities at the same time.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 23 at 1:38
  • Any "generalization from specific experience" seems to me a form of "inference" -- also, part of the Scientific Method -- for example, the 2nd and 3rd Noble Truths.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 23 at 6:28
  • There are other reasons though why the ground might be wet -- dew -- that's a form of "leaping o a conclusion" ... that's also called "inference" in English but I'm not sure it's quite the same thing. The "generalization" might be more closely allied to (only) what's actually observed.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 23 at 6:32
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SN 22.59 Anatta-lakkhana Sutta:

"Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.' And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.'

This passage is an example of inference. The self is exalted so we must infer that form, feeling, perception, consciousness, determinations are limited and thus not myself.

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  • What do you mean by exalted?
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 23 at 23:53
  • The self is exalted so we must infer that form, feeling it's you that infer. Not Buddha or Sariputta.
    – Pycm
    Commented Mar 28 at 5:47
  • exalted means many things but in the context of this sutta Buddha is emphasizing the impossible perfection which cannot be had or found. so he relugates the monk to think of himself as inferior and unwanted.
    – blue_ego
    Commented Apr 9 at 13:43
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The Dhamma Refuge in the Suttas literally says the Dhamma is to be directly verified. I cannot recall anywhere where this is more explicitly stated than in MN 38, which says:

"Now, monks, knowing thus and seeing thus, would you run after the past, thinking, 'Were we in the past? Were we not in the past? What were we in the past? How were we in the past? Having been what, what were we in the past'?"

"No, lord."

"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you run after the future, thinking, 'Shall we be in the future? Shall we not be in the future? What shall we be in the future? How shall we be in the future? Having been what, what shall we be in the future'?"

"No, lord."

"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you be inwardly perplexed about the immediate present, thinking, 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound'?"

"No, lord."

"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you say, 'The Teacher is our respected mentor. We speak thus out of respect for the Teacher'?"

"No, lord."

"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you say, 'The Contemplative says this. We speak thus in line with the Contemplative's words'?"

"No, lord."

"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you dedicate yourselves to another teacher?"

"No, lord."

"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you return to the observances, grand ceremonies, & auspicious rites of common contemplatives & brahmans as having any essence?"

"No, lord."

"Is it the case that you speak simply in line with what you have known, seen, & understood for yourselves?"

"Yes, lord."

"Good, monks. You have been guided by me in this Dhamma which is to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the observant for themselves. For it has been said, 'This Dhamma is to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be by the observant for themselves,' and it was in reference to this that it was said.

As for the English word "inference", which Pali word does this correspond to ???

As examples:

  • AN 2.25 uses the term "neyyattha", which Sujato translates as "in need of interpretation". This does not appear to imply "inference", per Thanissaro's questionable translation. For example, the term neyya is found in Snp 1.3, in the following translational context: "I’ve given rise to knowledge and need no-one to guide me: uppannañāṇomhi anaññaneyyo"; which appears to show the term "neyyattha" means "in need of guidance". This notion of "in need of guidance" is found throughout the Suttas, such as when the teachings in brief of the Buddha are later explained in detail by the Buddha or by an Arahant disciple.

  • The seemingly fake MN 143 (seeming to be about a singular consciousness not dependent upon any sense base and heretically about a same self returning to earth after death plus the SN reports Anāthapiṇḍika was already a stream-enterer and already knew the Supramundane Dhamma) uses the term "takka" or "logic". AN 3.65 says to not rely on logic/takka.

  • The term anumāna appears only found in the belated Milinda Pañha, therefore also appears fake. In his MN 15, Sujato notes:

“Should measure against” is anuminitabba, which in its noun form anumāna lends the sutta its title. The normal sense in later literature is “inference” (eg. Mil 6.4.1). Anumāna occurs in the early texts only here and in the passive form anumīyati at SN 22.36:1.4, where the sense must be to “measure against”. This passage also discusses how to measure oneself in relation to another, an external standard, whereas the next section on reflection applies an inner standard. Hence the commentary glosses with: “should compare, should judge” (tuletabbo tīretabbo).

Based on the above very limited & brief research, it appears "inference" has no place in the Buddha-Dhamma; that inference is contrary to the Triple Gem Refuge. AN 8.67 says saying you’ve seen, heard, thought or known something but you haven’t is ignoble. SN 56.102 & 103 appears to say what is ignoble leads to hell or an animal state.

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    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 25 at 2:11
  • @Desmon Stack Exchange assumes that people don't want to read a lot of comments. When a moderator does "move comments to chat" you shouldn't post another comment after that. As for "comment as a reason for downvoting": maybe not. If it's a friendly or inquisitive comment then it may be welcome. If it's a less-than-friendly comment, then maybe -- but be sure it's about the answer (not about the downvote, nor about the user) -- and maybe no more than one comment, occasionally, or it can get to be too much.
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  • If you want to question or comment on site-specific policy e.g. about moderation and comments etc., please post on Meta instead.
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    Commented Mar 26 at 5:23
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Part 1

Anumāna or inference

Anumāna or inference meaning,

An inference is an idea or conclusion that's drawn from evidence and reasoning. (according to the web).

Buddha doesn't conclude, doesn't use reasoning. Buddha only use reasoning to explain Damma to us. Not to understand himself. Buddha sees all as is. No reasoning, no concludes.


Part 2

Answer :-

Are there examples in the suttas where the Buddha, or his Arahant teacher disciples like Sariputta, used Anumāna or inference? Please provide them.

I don't think anyone will be able to find anything from actual Damma where Buddha, or his Arahant teacher disciples like Sariputta, used Anumāna or inference .

That's because Buddha doesn't speak of inference, but only facts he himself understood. There's no secret in the universe that Buddha doesn't know. He has ultimate knowledge.

As for Sariputta, he doesn't have ultimate knowledge, but his knowledge is only second to Buddha. So, they both doesn't speak using any inferences. They only speak 100% facts.


Part 3

Another example is evolution. We cannot observe that humans evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees. However, we can infer that indirectly from fossil evidence. This is obtaining knowledge from inference.

Buddha or Sariputta does not use inferences.

But why?

As for Buddha, nothing can hide from his view(past, present, future, small, big, near, far and including everything) . So he does not have to use inferences. It's not he doesn't use inferences, he doesn't have to.


Examples :-

  • Let's say you see an apple on the table. Now, how many inferences did you use to understand that it's a apple. Obviously none. (some may say they inferred that it's an apple by comparing it with memory).

See, if oneself see something 100%, he/she doesn't have to use inferences.

  • Another example is evolution. We cannot observe that humans evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees. However, we can infer that indirectly from fossil evidence. This is obtaining knowledge from inference.

Obviously, Buddha can observe evolution/animal formation on earth with his Dhayana. So, doesn't have to use inferences and guess stuff.


Part 4

Just listen to some Krishnamurti's talks on YouTube. It's not equal to the Buddhas. But you understand the tone of a Buddha by listening to the tone of the Krishnamurti. I think they should be alike. They don't use inferences, but facts. I think Buddha's tone would be more advance, soft, appropriate, convincing than Krishnamurti's. (That's because Buddha read the listener's mind and deicide the exact missing part).

Add to above, if you listen to Krishnamurthy, you may think omg, he doesn't know anything, all he does is ask questions from others.

Is that the truth? No. Right?

He is asking others to inquiry themselves. That's same for Buddha. Buddha ask questions, use arguments, thought patterns looks like inferences. But all that is to guide others. Not to learn for himself.

Did anyone listen to Krishnamurthy? Some may not be able to see that he is speaking Buddha's words, because current Buddhist books/views/religion in very much clouded by extra stuff than true Damma. I consider Krishnamurthy as a true Buddhist. All the his videos / speeches are about removing self and becoming free from suffering. As people should know, Buddha didn't create the religion or Buddhism; others did. Remember, 2500 years.

Krishnamurti foundation : YouTube

Thanks 🙏. ☸️.

Questions are welcome.

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  • I decided not to add on to the comments below in case it gets moved. The qn asked for examples, you give none and proceed to expound your position. Answers that give the questioner what they wanted annoyed you. But isn't it more important for you to wonder why this qn was posted in the first place?
    – Desmon
    Commented Mar 29 at 4:04
  • Ok. I am not annoyed. I am just learning here. But how could someone to hope to find something, if it's not there. Then there wouldn't be any answers to this question. That's why my answer doesn't have examples of references.
    – Pycm
    Commented Mar 29 at 5:22
  • I am just learning here. So am I. That's why I am curious why aren't you puzzled as to why a qn is posted which, in your mind, has no answer? Is the OP merely trying to confirm this fact?
    – Desmon
    Commented Mar 29 at 8:47
  • Is the OP merely trying to confirm this fact? I mean, I don't know what he was trying to do? Do you know? But, if something has no solution, we(I) shouldn't pretend and not tell him. Should only speak from heart /truth. I mean, one can ask 1000s of questions that will not have meaningful answers. That's okay.
    – Pycm
    Commented Mar 29 at 11:08
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I am assuming by inference we are talking about deduction, induction and abduction. Ven. Ananda was once praised by the Buddha for correctly deducing the identity of a deva who visited the Buddha at the Jeta’s Grove.

“Very good, Ānanda. Very good, to the extent that you have deduced what can be arrived at through logic. That was Anāthapiṇḍika the deva’s son, and no one else.”

I suspect you are looking for more concrete examples. Sorry if it is too superficial, it just pops up in my head.


Addendum – March 29, 2024

The Sāvaka sutta (SN15.7) might be seen as the Buddha inferring about the outcome of a fruitless attempt to uncover how many aeons had passed since the beginning of the universe.

Firstly, it is important that we remember a Buddha does not say something without any basis like ordinary folks. So, the following is my interpretation and understanding of this sutra:

  1. Our Buddha does not know how many aeons had passed since the beginning of the universe.
  2. A thought experiment was postulated that even if four Arahant disciples who can recall their past lives, attempted to recollect 100,000 aeons per day for 100 years of their lifespan, they would still not discover the answer.
  3. Naturally, the hypothesis in (2) was not tested, validated or verified and the outcome is, therefore, inferred (that they would fail).

(Incidentally, I believe why four disciples instead of one is so that they can cross reference each other. It is not a 1+1+1+1 = 4 but whether the recollection of a particular aeon of one matches the other three. Like all experiments, results should be cross-examined for validity, accuracy and reliability).

It is very rare that the Buddha has no knowledge in any area. Thus, it is equally rare to find any sutra where the Buddha relied on inference. I believe the above is one such instance. My initial answer would have indicated that the Buddha (in praising Ven. Ananda) does not disdain or disapprove of logical deduction (and by association inference).

This additional section further highlights our Buddha’s pragmatism. He is not afraid and does not see it as being beneath a Buddha’s station to rely on inference, when necessary, in order to better inform his decision. In this case, a decision not to expend any further efforts into uncovering the origin of the universe (it would have been a futile endeavour).

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  • At the time Ānanda wasn't an Arahant, but a normal monk. It's not Buddha that used deduction. But he used that to speak to normal mind that way, because that's what normal mind understands.
    – Pycm
    Commented Mar 28 at 5:52
  • @Pycm I have added additional material to my answer. My initial answer was meant to show that the Buddha does not disdain or disapprove of logical deduction. I don't think an Enlightened being discriminate between normal or enlightened mind. They merely see and say things as they truly are or if revealing certain information is not helpful or maybe harmful; simply remain silent.
    – Desmon
    Commented Mar 28 at 17:13
  • I'm sorry. But I have to say this. He is not afraid and does not see it as being beneath a Buddha’s station to rely on inference I disagree. Buddha doesn't use inferences. Use only to explain things to us. Because we rely on language, reasoning to believe, understand something.
    – Pycm
    Commented Mar 28 at 17:32
  • I feel like, your interpretation is that, Buddha created all the Damma just by thought experiments, dedication, inferences as normal intelligent person would do. Don't you believe Dhayana, special abilities, special wisdoms of Buddha? Also how many aeons had passed since the beginning of the universe it's not our universe Buddha talking about. But the time itself. Not as big bang universe. Obviously there can't be a beginning. So can't see.
    – Pycm
    Commented Mar 28 at 17:45

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