By Swami Harshananda
Bhrama literally means ‘that which is unsteady,’ ‘error or illusion’.
According to the philosophical works, knowledge is of two kinds :
- Pramā or true knowledge
- Bhrama or false knowledge
Bhrama (also called ‘viparyaya’), sometimes described as ‘error’ or ‘illusion’, may be caused by the defects in the perceptive system, which includes the sense-organs, the mind, or certain external factors or even false logic.
When one moon is seen as two or the conch as yellow in color, the defect lies in the sense-organs. If one infers the existence of fire at a distance by mistaking the mist there for smoke, the error is caused by an external factor. If some ‘scriptures’ are accepted as ‘true and authoritative’ by a section of people, those opposed to them attribute the ‘error’ to ‘false logic.’
The oft-quoted examples for bhrama in the Vedāntic texts are :
- Rajjusarpa-nyāya : Seeing a snake in a rope in insufficient light
- Śukti-rajata-nyāya : Silver in nacre on a moonlit night
- Jala-marīcikā-nyāya : Water in a mirage on a hot summer day
- Sthāṇu- puruṣa-nyāya : A person in a stump of tree
A detailed analysis of some of these examples especially the śukti-rajata-nyāya—in order to determine the exact nature of the error is a special feature of these texts. The word ‘bhrama’ is sometimes used to denote a covered arcade or an enclosed place of religious retirement meant for mendicants, generally attached to a temple.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore