The Philosophical Works and Influence of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti

Dan Arnold

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online February 2012 | | DOI:
The Philosophical Works and Influence of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti

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Dignāga (also spelled “Diṅnāga,” b. c. 480–d. c. 540 ce) and Dharmakīrti (b. c. 600–d. c. 660 ce) decisively influenced the course not only of Buddhist philosophy, but of Indian philosophy more generally. Previous to Dignāga, Buddhist philosophical thought had been advanced predominantly in the discourse of Abhidharma literature; this was largely intramural in character, typically involving arguments driven by exegetical considerations. Though heir to generally Ābhidharmika intuitions about how to understand cardinal Buddhist claims, Dignāga first advanced systematically epistemological arguments in support thereof, arguments that might in principle be persuasive across party lines. His brief Hetucakraḍamaru (Drum of the cycle of reasons) formalized valid argument forms, concisely presenting what Dignāga took to be all possible relations between the terms of a formally stated inference. He refined epistemological terms of art (familiar from earlier Nyāya literature) like pramāṇa, which denotes reliable epistemic “criteria” (as one might translate the term); while many Brahmanical schools of thought affirmed that language or the testimony of tradition ought to be reckoned among such criteria of knowledge, Dignāga claimed that only pratyakṣa (perception) and anumāna (inference) have this status, with all other ways of arriving at valid beliefs being reducible to one of these. Engaging rival schools of Indian thought in his magnum opus—the Pramāṇasamuccaya (Compendium of pramāṇas)—Dignāga deployed pramāṇa discourse to advance characteristically Buddhist claims, first introducing such influential doctrines as the nominalist apoha (exclusion) theory of linguistic meaning. Dharmakīrti, who is traditionally represented as Dignāga’s grand-disciple, framed his most extensive work—the Pramāṇavārttika (Critical commentary on pramāṇa)—as a commentary on Dignāga’s magnum opus. Benefiting from intervening Brahmanical critiques of Dignāga, Dharmakīrti greatly elaborated and in some respects revised Dignāga’s thought, advancing what many Indian philosophers would take to be the definitive arguments for characteristically Buddhist positions. Indeed, Dharmakīrti’s influence effectively eclipsed Dignāga’s, and for subsequent Indian philosophers (Brahmanical and Buddhist alike), Dharmakīrti’s work epitomized “the Buddhist position” in matters philosophical; to this day, his work represents the epistemological cornerstone of many Tibetan Buddhist monastic curricula.

Article.  8072 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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