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Anubhava (Hindu thought)


Anubhava (Hindu thought)

In Hindu thought, Anubhava or anubhavah (Sanskrit: अनुभव) refers to personal knowledge or aesthetic experience.


  • Etymology 1
  • Religion 2
    • Direct cognition 2.1
    • Advaita Vedanta 2.2
    • Neo-Vedanta 2.3
    • Saiva Siddhanta 2.4
    • Waking and dreaming 2.5
  • Anubhāvah (अनुभावः) and Indian aesthetics 3
  • References 4


The term anubhava or anubhavah (Sanskrit) is a compound of:

  • अनु anu: 'after', 'afterwards', 'later on', 'in consequence of', 'being indicated by';
  • भ(भु)व bhava: 'causing', 'delighting' or 'experiencing'.

Anubhava has a wide range of possible translations:[1][2]

  • अनुभव – 'direct perception or cognition', 'knowledge derived from personal observation or experiment, 'notion', 'apprehension', 'the impression on the mind not derived from memory', 'one of the kinds of knowledge', 'experience', 'understanding', 'result', 'consequence';
  • अनुभवसिद्ध – 'established by experience'.

Severale related words express the mental state which can be communicated to others or represented (अभिनय – 'acting'), either verbally or physically or emotionally, in one or different contexts:

  • भाव bhāvah: 'feeling', 'emotion', 'sentiment', 'temperament', 'mood';
  • विभाव vibhāvah: 'any condition which produces or develops a particular state of body or mind';
  • अनुभाव anubhāvah: 'greatness', 'dignity', 'firm opinion or determination', 'an external manifestation or indication of a feeling by appropriate looks, gestures etc., called by some ensuant';
  • अनुभू anubhū: to enjoy, taste, experience or suffer;
  • अनुभूति anubhūti: 'realization', self-realization'.

Anubhāvas are not causes, but aesthetic experiences and important ingredients of Rasa. Anubhavah is not a sense-experience.


Direct cognition

Anubhavah refers to poetic, narrative or ritual experience, enjoyment, relish or delight resulting, for the devotee or the seeker after truth, in the ecstatic experience of the divine; it is a means to understand during one’s own life-time the true nature of one’s own self which is the real nature of the Atman by experiencing the sublime delight of the unity with the Supreme Self .[3]

Cognition is said to be of two kinds – smrti ('reproductive') which is other than re-cognitive perception requiring disposition, and anubhavah ('productive') which involves a kind of awareness not derived from disposition alone. The difference between the waking state and the dreaming state becomes known through anubhava ('perception').[4]

Advaita Vedanta

The sage of the Mundaka Upanishad declares:-

स यो ह् वै तत्परमं ब्रह्म वेद ब्रह्मैव भवति - "Verily he becomes Brahman, who knows Brahman. " - (Mundaka Upanishad III.ii.9)

This is so because Brahman is of the nature of experience (anubhuti) and to have the anubhava of Brahman is becoming Brahman, then this revelation, a moment ago non-existing, is realized as existing eternally. Vijñānam is anubhava, and anubhava is realization of the identity of the individual self and Brahman, which experience does not depend on any process, neither produced by any process nor as an effect to any cause and is the highest state of development.[5]

With regard to the origination of things, Badarayana declares:-

जन्माद्यस्य यतः "That (is Brahman) from which (are derived) the birth etc., of this (universe)." - (Brahma Sutras I.i.2)

Shankara holds anubhava to be a pramana, an independent source of knowledge which is provided by contemplation (nididhyasana).[6] In his commentary on this sutra Shankara explains that a thing cannot be simultaneously judged to be existent and non-existent for the valid knowledge of the true nature of a thing does not depend on human notions and यतः ( yatah ) ('that from which') in this sutra "is not meant to present an inference but speaks of a cause that is by nature eternal, pure, free and intrinsically omniscient" (which has to be experienced and felt).[7] The realization of the Supreme Word (śabda), which is truth and reality, happens intuitively (a stage of pratibha), and resembles Shankara’s concept of anubhava.[8]

Padmapada (fl. 8th century), a student pf Shankara, in his Panchapādikā, expounding Prabhākara’s view, explains that knowledge is anubhava i.e. the immediate experience, the resultant-cognition gained through valid means of knowledge when the subject and the object manifest and the self of the knower is known indirectly as "I".[9] And, according to Abhinavagupta, the very continuous and proper remembrance of the mantra (of a ritual) is the attainment of the condition in which the devout upāsaka as a routine has the continuous and direct anubhava ('experience') of the Self as no different from himself.[10]

Swami Dayananda notes that anubhava has a more specific meaning than its conventional meaning of "experience", namely "direct knowledge". Dayananda explains that interpreting anubahva as "experience" may lead to a misunderstanding of Advaita Vedanta, and a mistaken rejection of the study of the scriptures as mere intellectual understanding. Stressing the meaning of anubhava as knowledge, Saraswati argues that liberation comes from knowledge, not from mere experience.[11] Saraswati points out that "the experience of the self ... can never come because consciousness is ever-present, in and through each and every experience."[12]


According to Vivekananda, anubhavah is the ground and source of all religious traditions, the infallible source of liberating knowledge, and the ultimate source of spiritual knowledge; however, he happens to distinguish between internal and external experience, between knowledge gained through words heard and own experience which he finds are not similar in nature and import.[13] According to Reza Shah-Kazemi anubhava is the immediate experience through which the transcendence of the Supreme Self beyond all limitations becomes known as one’s own self, then one realizes the real nature of one’s own self.[14]

Saiva Siddhanta

Thayumanavar, the 18th-century Tamil Saiva Siddhanta saint, the one who gains anubhava delights in the unitive experience (advaita anubhava) which is deep and intuitive, and the culmination of all experimental states of Vedanta; it is the svarupa-lakshana.[15]

Waking and dreaming

In the waking state and in the dreaming state, samvedana (संवेदन) ('perception', 'act of perceiving or feeling', 'cognitive awareness') is two-folds – i) 'knowledge' and its ii) 'object'; in deep sleep state and turiya state, which states are not different from knowledge, anubhava ('experiencing awareness') is consciousness alone; the enlightened soul does not ever lose this experiencing awareness which event (anubhava) occurs no sooner the object is perceived and its existence is registered.[16]

Anubhāvah (अनुभावः) and Indian aesthetics

In poetry, prose and drama, emotions are indirectly communicated to the readers and audience via portrayal of certain aspects of emotion’s conditions and causes (vibhāva consisting of alambana and uddipana), exterior manifestations or consequences (anubhāva which is vācika, āngika or sāttvika) and concomitant accompanying emotions (sancāribhāva) which method is called rasa ('relish') or dhvani and involves diction (riti), rhetoric (alankāra) and oblique expression (vakrokti), and is the finished product of sentiment (sthāyibhāva). Bhāva is emotion.[17]

Mystic poetry is known as Anubhāvakāvya. Bendre, who started the cultural movement nada-habba, considers mystic experience as an extension of anubhava, and anubhava leads to anubhāvaBhāva -> Anubhava -> Bhāva -> Anubhāva. In his poem, Sanna Somavara as a poetic composition is seen the transformation of bhāva into anubhava and back to bhāva.[18]

There are eight different and distinct rasa or 'sentiments' – 'erotic', 'comic', 'pathetic', 'furious', 'heroic', 'terrible', 'odious', and 'marvellous', to which rasa is also added śānta rasa. Bharata states that rasa is the soul of poetry. The vedic meaning of rasa is 'liquid' or 'flavour'; for Shankara, rasa signifies the intrinsic and spiritual non-material bliss. Natya Shastra (St.109) explains that rasa is produced from a combination of determinants (vibhāva), consequents or histrionic representations (anubhāva) and any of the thirty-three transitory states (vyabhicāribhāva), according to which text, 'love', 'mirth', 'sorrow', 'anger', 'energy', 'terror', 'disgust' and 'astonishment' are the eight dominant states or sthāyibhāva; 'paralysis', 'perspiration', 'horripilation', 'change of voice', 'trembling', 'change of colour', 'weeping' and 'fainting' are the eight temperamental states or sattvikabhāva, and emphasizes on histrionic representation or abhinaya of the anubhāva presented by the characters developed by the playwright. Abhinavagupta that śānta rasa, also a sthāyibhāva, leads to moksha, for it is the very experience of pure consciousness; vibhāva also means 'pure consciousness' and anubhāva also means the experience arising from pure consciousness. Rasa is an experience of pure consciousness brought about by the aesthetic contents, impressions and stimuli for the mind, the intellect and the emotions; vibhāva causes a specific emotional state to cause an anubhāva (effect)[19] which is defined as means of histrionic representation. The experience of rasa is the experience of the different levels of perception corresponding to the different transitory mental states,[20] the sāttvika-bhāvas, for example, are involuntary and uncontrollable physical responses produced from certain mental states. Bhatta Lolatta states that rasa is intensified sthāyibhāva located in the character (anukārya) and the actor (anukartā) by virtue of the power of identification.[21]


  1. ^ V.S.Apte. The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. p. 11. 
  2. ^ Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature. Sahitya Akademi. p. 201. 
  3. ^ P.Pratap Kumar. Contemporary Hinduism. Routledge. p. 220. 
  4. ^ Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti. Classical Indian Philosophy of Mind. SUNY Press. pp. 35, 43,. 
  5. ^ Nalini kanta Brahma. Philosophy of Hindu Sadhana. PHI Learning. p. 127,147. 
  6. ^ Anantanand Rambachan. Accomplishing the Accomplished. University of Hawaii Press. p. 14,. 
  7. ^ Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracarya. Advaita Ashrama. p. 17. 
  8. ^ Sebastian Alackapally. Being and Meaning. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 100. 
  9. ^ Satchidanandendra Saraswati. The Method of the Vedanta. p. 419. 
  10. ^ Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega. The Triadic Heart of Siva. SUNY Press. p. 187. 
  11. ^ Experience versus knowledge – a brief look at samAdhi (Part 2 of 2)Advaita Academy,
  12. ^ AnubhavaSwami Dayananda Saraswati,
  13. ^ Anantanand Rambachan. The Limits of scripture. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 9, 113, 133, 151. 
  14. ^ Reza Shah-Kazemi. Paths to Transcendence. World Wisdom. p. 28. 
  15. ^ Harmony of Religions. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 169, 106,123. 
  16. ^ The Stanzas on Vibration. SUNY Press. pp. 96, 165, 349. 
  17. ^ A.R.Biswas. Critique of Poetics Vol.1. p. 17,45,. 
  18. ^ G.S.Amur. Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre. Sahitya Akademi. pp. 95, 97. 
  19. ^ Daniel Meyer-Dinkgrafe. Theatre and Consciousness. Intellect Books. 
  20. ^ Sreenath Nair. restoration of Breath. Rodopi. 
  21. ^ Rupa Goswami. The Bhaktirasamrtasindhu. Motilal Banarsidass. p. xxxvii, xliv. 
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