In the last week, two students have asked me about the distinction between jñā- and vid- and this made me think that it might be worth adding a new section to Andrew’s collaborative enterprise (see here and here) of mapping the technical vocabulary of Sanskrit. Since jñā- (and its derivatives, such as jñāna) and vid- (and vidyā, etc.) have different acceptations in various areas of Sanskrit, let me state, once again, that I will only focus on śāstric, philosophical Sanskrit.
To begin with, let me state that jñā- is the most common and most generic way to refer to the semantic field of knowing. It is thus, like artha in another field, a valuable place-holder for almost any other verb, since all cognising activities, from the sense-perceptual grasping to the illusory conceptualising, can be referred to as instances of jñā-. However, more in detail:
- vid- is etymologically linked with the act of seeing (as in Ancient Greek οἶδα, literally ‘I have seen’, but used in the sense of ‘I know’). It thus indicates what one has experienced and thus knows for sure. Moreover, vid- indicates a lasting knowledge, one which is valid and which one will be able to keep in one’s memory for at least a long time. Accordingly, the vidyās are branches of learning, like the German Wissenschaften. Long story short, use verbs such as ‘to know’ to translate it.
- jñā-, by contrast, indicates an act of cognition (as shown by B.K. Matilal). It is thus not necessarily valid and it is instantaneous. One performs an act of jñā- when one erroneously grasps water in the desert, or when one dreams. And the single jñānas are just single ‘cognitions’ which one does not keep forever. vijñāna may add to that a nuance of ‘discriminative, dialectic cognition’, which makes it necessarily valid, but the distinction between jñāna and vijñāna is a moot issue, as proved by the commentaries on the one or the other. Long story short, use verbs such as ‘to cognize’ to translate jñā-.
In non-Śāstric contexts, jñāna can acquire different meanings and its non discriminative nature can be seen as an advantage, so that it can even ultimately amount to ‘insight’ or ‘wisdom’.
What are your translations for jñā– and vid-?