Excerpted from the 7th chapter of my book Myth of 'The Epoch of Arundhati' of Nilesh Nilkanth Oak titled, 'Methodology: Faulty concept of Pramana'
Is A-V observation a valid Shabda Pramāna?
This question arises after reading the views of Nilesh Oak on Shabda Pramāna in different platforms between 2011 and 2019. In his book he treats A-V observation as a Shabda pramāna. Writing on A-V observation in the chapter on “The Epoch of Arundhati” he says,
“This is an illustration of the validity of ‘Shabda Pramāna– Verbal Testimony’ corroborated by ‘Pratyaksha Pramāna – Empirical Proof.”
Here he treats the sighting of Arundhati – Vasishtha by Vyasa as Shabda pramāna, and his own verification of the same in the simulator as Pratyaksha Pramāna.
In his 2015 blog comes the rejection of Shabda as a pramāna in the context of explaining the sutra of Patanjali “pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni” Unable to accept Agama as a pramāna, he figures out a scenario of misinterpretation of Agama, stating that “anytime ‘Agama’ was misunderstood and was interpreted as ‘knowledge beyond doubt, scepticism or criticism’, humanity has landed in big trouble.”
He further says that Agama was modified into Shabda later and was twisted with an element of dogmatic insistence. To quote his own words,
“It appears that some of the Indian traditions modified Patanjali’s original ‘Pratyaksha-Anumana-Agama-Pramāna’ into ‘Pratyaksha-Anumana-Shabda’ as means of ‘Pramāna’....However the worst part of this twisting was their dogmatic insistence on Shabda (Authority-read-utterance/opinion of Gurus, Godmen, Teachers, Professors, elders) that, IMHO, led to Dark Age of Science in India.”
So according to him Shabda replaced Agama and was twisted badly such that the Indian science was pushed into Dark Age. This view of him seems to have grown exponentially over the years that recently in a twitter interaction Nilesh Oak was found to be spitting scorn over the very idea of Shabda Pramāna.
However his view recorded in 2017 was dramatically different from this, echoing his earlier insistence on A-V observation as Shabda Pramāna. One can read this in the transcript of his lecture given at Srijan Foundation, posted in a website. 
“So, now we bring all of this together and let us adorn our scientific hats. We have got our empirical proof; we have got the “Shabda Pramaan”,somebody’s claims. Arundhati walking ahead of Vasishtha, we got empirical proof?Yes, that indeed it went ahead of the Vasishtha........
“....That’s fine ‘Shabda Pramaan’ matches with the ‘Pratyaksha Pramaan’, empirical proof that’s all nice but come on, that is just one observation.”
Few months after this, in 2017, Nilesh Oak repeats the same idea of treating A-V observation as Shabda Pramāna in a crisp reply to Dieter Koch.
Now more recently in May 2019, in a twitter interaction he envisaged taking up Shabda Pramānaas a last resort when the other pramāna are not available.
Thus we find a changing stance on Shabda Pramāna.
2011 (book) – Accept Shabda Pramāna.
2015 (blog) – Reject Shabda Pramāna.
2017 Feb (lecture) – Accept Shabda Pramāna.
2017 May (Blog) – Accept Shabda Pramāna
2019 May-twice (Twitter) – Reject Shabda Pramāna.
The only common feature through all these is to accept Shabda Pramāna if it is about A-V observation. But Shabda Pramāna in general is rejected. This raises the following questions.
1. Having rejected the very idea of Shabda Pramāna summarily, how can he still hold on to the claim that A-V observation is the Shabda Pramāna validated by him?
2. Rejection of Shabda Pramāna must hold good for all Shabda Pramānas. By harping on A-V as Shabda even after this rejection, does he mean to accord an exception to A-V observation?
3. If A-V is special that he treats it as an exception, on what grounds he does that?
4. If Arundhati walking ahead of Vasishtha is a Shabda Pramāna, then what is the status of Arundhati walking behind Vasishtha that is continuing for aeons? Isn’t Arundhati behind Vasishtha a Shabda pramāna, given the fact she is invoked in Vedic mantras precisely for this reason at Vedic marriages?
5. Can two Shabda Pramānas exist for two facets of the same person / star – Arundhati walking ahead and Arundhati walking behind Vasishtha?
6. These two being contradictory, both (contradicting) statements cannot become Shabda Pramāna. But one of them can be Shabda Pramāna. Did he analyse which of the two qualify to be a Shabda Pramāna?
7. At the least, did he analyse the verse on A-V to check if it is qualified as Shabda?
up the analysis, let me reproduce the verse given by Nilesh Oak in his book.
“My dear King, Arundhati (saintly wife of Vasishtha) who is revered by the righteous all over the three worlds, has left her husband Vasishtha behind.”
· This has two parts, appearing as two lines in the Sanskrit verse.
· Line 1:My dear King, Arundhati (saintly wife of Vasishtha) who is revered by the righteous all over the three worlds, (the cause for the reverence is that Arundhati follows Vasishtha - inter-subjective observation as per Karl Popper)
· Line 2: Has left her husband Vasishtha behind (subjective observation by Vasishtha).
· As per Karl Popper’s falsification method, the first line is a Universal Statement (much like “All swans are white).
· The second line is an existential statement (like “There is a black swan”)
· To make the second line a Basic Sentence or falsifier, it must have been seen by more than one person. In the absence of any reference to that effect, the first line continues to be unchallenged, remains a universal statement and therefore only the first line is validas a ‘Shabda Pramāna’.
· Can Nilesh Oak challenge this by Popperian methodology of falsification that he is fond of?
9. On what basis Nilesh Oak treats the A-V verse as Shabda Pramāna – because it was seen by Vyasa, or because it appears in Mahabharata, a text he assumes to be factual?
· If Nilesh Oak picks out the first among the two, raised in the 9th question, then it becomes the Pratyaksha Pramāna (direct perception by Vyasa) and not Shabda Pramāna. That Vyasa had seen Arundhati going ahead of Vasishtha is his perception – PratyakshaPramāna. The researcher has to check it with the next in sequence namely; Anumana and then cross check it with Shabda – that is how the process of research happens with Pramānas. But why did Nilesh Oak go on the reverse – taking up Vyasa’s observation as Shabda and himself seeing it in simulator as Pratyaksha?
· Taking up the second in the 9th question, will he accept everything in Mahabharata text as Shabda Pramāna? If yes, why did he cling on to a number 98 that is nowhere found in Mahabharata as the number of days Bhishma was lying on arrow bed? If his answer for the question is no, why should he treat the A-V observation as Shabda Pramāna as he himself has conceded in his book that “it is reasonable to assume existence of transcription and transmission errors in the Mahabharata text”?A text with errors and doubtful transcript cannot be treated as Shabda Pramāna.
Post his book release, Nilesh Oak’s obsession with Pramānas seems to have grown. A-V observation is Shabda Pramāna in his book, and on all the occasions he speaks or writes on A-V observation. Come other times, Nilesh Oak is up with various interpretations of Pramāna, forgetting every time that his newer definitions would contradict the Shabda Pramāna nature of A-V observation. So far he has talked about the Pramānas from Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and from Nyaya Sutra (in the tweet shown earlier). Mixing them with Karl Popper’s ideas he has created what can be called ‘Nilesh Oak Sutra of Pramānas’. I tried my best to pick out the substance from them and present it below.
Nilesh Nilkanth Oak Sutra of Pramānas.
Sometime after he published his book, Nilesh Oak had come across Patanjalai’s Yoga Sutras and found something dramatic in support of his methodology of how he arrived at A-V observation. He writes in his blog in 2015,
“While reading Patanjali Yoga-Sutra, I came across a Sutra (Aphorism) and instantly realized that I had landed on more intricate and elegant scientific method”.
The sutra that attracted him is “pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni”
The above narration by Nilesh Oak gives an impression that he is new to the concept of Pratyaksha etc pramānas until he read the Yoga sutras, although he was found to have used two terms ‘Pratyaksha’ and ‘Shabda’ pramāna in his book. It could also mean that he already knew the terms (or else he could not use them in the book) but had thought about them deeply only in 2015 when he was reading the Yoga sutras. And in his habitual way of interpreting terms in his own way (much like interpreting vakri, pīdana etc) he re-interprets the sutra of Patanjali and declares,
“I want to present alternate explanation for this Sutra that is further enriching and exhibits iterative and sophisticated view of acquiring knowledge:”
The uniqueness of his interpretation is such that he has made Pramāna, a generic term, a subset of itself. To give a simple example, there is a triad, the Tri-mūrti: they are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Now you state the triad consists of Brahma, Vishnu and Tri-mūrti, how correct is it? It is correct if we accept Nilesh Oak’s interpretation.
For Nilesh Oak, the pramānas are Pratyaksha, Anumana and Pramāna!!
He strips off Agama from the triad of Pramānas given by Patanjali and forms what he calls a triangulation comparable with Popper’s Triangulation of Explanation-Prediction-Testing in which
Pratyaksha = Testing
Anumana = Prediction
Pramāna = Explanation.
Interestingly he has coined the term “Tri-mūrti scientific method” for the triangle he interpreted from Karl Popper. Though he compares Agama with background knowledge and assumptions, he prefers to set it aside from pramānas, as he thinks that “anytime ‘Agama’ was misunderstood and was interpreted as ‘knowledge beyond doubt, scepticism or criticism’, humanity has landed in big trouble.”
He justifies this treatment to Agama by citing how Aristotelian science turned into dogma leading to stagnation of growth. He also accuses some of the Indian traditions as having modified Agama into Shabda which resulted in dogmatic insistence of the authority of Gurus, Godmen, Teachers, Professors, elders. It is clear he has no respect for Shabda Pramāna – but that did not stop him from quoting A-V observation as Shabda Pramāna!
The contradictions don’t stop here as we find new interpretation for the pramānas in his tweet from Nyaya Sutra, posted in May 2019.(Next Page).
As per the logic of Nilesh Oak, Pratyaksha appearing first in the list of pramānas is the highest Pramāna and Shabda appearing last in the list is the last resort. In other words, he gives place value for the three pramānas Pratyaksha, Anumana and Shabda appearing in this order. Applying this place value formula for the Tri-mūrti-s I started wondering how would he interpret the importance of the three murtis? Would he say that Brahma is the deity of highest importance and Shiva being the last in the list must be invoked only as a last resort or after reaching out to the first two?
In Nilesh Oak’s scheme, Agama and Shabda deserve to be eliminated from Patanjali’s Yoga sutra to make them more scientific. After he started reading Nyaya sutra, he seemed to have somewhat come to terms with Shabda Pramāna, but wanted to uphold Pratyaksha above Shabda and the placement order convinces him of the superiority of Pratyaksha over Shabda. However one cannot help thinking that this love for Pratyaksha over Shabda may be to justify his ‘direct viewing’ of the A-V phenomenon through Voyager- Simulation which he promotes as Pratyaksha Pramāna!
· By having rejected Shabda / Agama, Nilesh Oak has reduced his much laboured work – laboured to prove that he is following Vedic methods – into nāstika or non-Vedic work!
· By making Pratyaksha Pramāna as the primary and the only pramāna, Nilesh Oak has made his research fit to be called as “Carvaka” work.
· By embracing a methodology of Pramānas with twisted meaning of Pramāna by making it a sub-set to itself, Nilesh Oak has set the tone of his research – of ignoring the established meanings of the terms of Mahabharata and twisting them as he likes. E.g.: Vakri, Pīdana.
· By merging the lofty concept of Pramānas with Popper’s Triangulation (that is however inferior to modern Flow chart models of scientific research in sociological studies that include history.), Nilesh Oak has undermined the scope of Pramānas. To quote an example, Popper does not recognise the role of negation as a Basic Sentence which however is one of the sources of knowledge (pramāna).
The following view of him shows the
limitations of his methodology.
“A statement of the form ‘There is a so-and-so in the region k’ or ‘Such-and-such an event is occurring in the region k’ (cf. section 23) may be called a ‘singular existential statement’ or a ‘singular there-is statement’. And the statement which results from negating it, i.e. ‘There is no so-and-so in the region k’ or ‘No event of such-and-such a kind is occurring in the region k’, may be called a ‘singular non-existence statement’, or a ‘singular there-is-not statement’. We may now lay down the following rule concerning basic statements: basic statements have the form of singular existential statements.”
· It is a fact that the ‘Singular non-existence statement’(or there-is-not statement), not recognised by Karl Popper is very much part of the Pramānas of the Astika Darshanas. Such statements have a parallel in the concept of ‘Anupalabdhi’, the 6th pramāna among the eight narrated by Vatsyayana and followed by Vedantic schools of Thought. A non-existence statement such as “There are no stars in the sky” pre-supposes that there were stars in the sky but not apprehended at the time of looking at the sky. It also gives the knowledge that the statement was uttered in the day time! Sometimes non-existence conveys existence, and non-perception is perception. Such kinds of expressions are found in Mahabharata astronomy terms – which cannot be deciphered by a Popperian follower. The Indian system of Pramānas is undoubtedly far superior source of knowledge and need not be mixed with Popper’s philosophy of science to sanctify it as scientific.
C.R. Kothari, (2004) “Research Methodology: Methods and Techniques” New Age International Publishers, New Delhi, Page 11
Karl Popper, “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” (English edition 1959), Page 83
“When Did The Mahabharata war Happen?” Page 70
“Scientific Method: Elegant & Intricate” https://nileshoak.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/scientific-method-elegant-intricate/
“AV Observation And The Date of Mahabharata Explained.”https://indictales.com/2017/02/14/av-observation-and-the-date-of-mahabharata-explained/
“Debating evidence, method & Inferences: Oak vs Koch – Part 3” https://nileshoak.wordpress.com/2017/05/22/debating-evidence-method-inferences-oak-vs-koch-part-3/
“When Did The Mahabharata War Happen?” Page 53
“When Did The Mahabharata War Happen?” Page 14
 “Scientific Method: Elegant & Intricate” https://nileshoak.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/scientific-method-elegant-intricate/
“Tri-Murti of Scientific Method” https://nileshoak.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/tri-murti-of-scientific-method/