[The following article was sent to me by Prof. SR Bhatt, with the kind mediation of U Mohrhoff.  It is I think of interest in the context of the epistemological discussions in our Forum. 

I have added paragraph numbers to facilitate discussion    --    HFJM]



by  S
. R. Bhatt

Received July 2008, posted 2 August 2008




When Buddha Sakyamuni attained enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree more than two and a half thousand years ago , his achievement was not only the result of having reached the peak of meditative stabilization, of having brought great compassion to fruition, but also of clear analytic thought. ----- Thus, the study of logic and the nature of knowledge have been crucial to Buddhist tradition from the outset.


The Dalai Lama                                               

                                          (Foreword to Buddhist Epistemology by Bhatt & Mehrotra)





The varied and variegated Indian philosophical thought can be broadly classified into “Atmavada” (Substance ontology) and “Anatmavada” (No-substance ontology).  The Buddhist thought advocated Anatmavada whereas the rest of the schools followed Atmavada. In order to expound and explicate anatmavada view the Buddhist thinkers developed their own system of epistemology, logic and language to suit their ontology and value theory. The ideas of anatta (No-substance), sunyata (essence-less-ness) ksana santana (existence series), the theory of pratityasamutpada (interdependent origination), and the goal of nirvana etc. required new modes of knowing and thinking.  The Buddha acquired knowledge for his own enlightenment and also communicated knowledge for the enlightenment of others. The essential significance of enlightening knowledge in a liberating philosophy of Buddhism need not be highlighted.  However it should be pointed out that the Buddhist theory of knowledge is only a corollary of the Buddhist theory of reality and the Buddhist theory of reality is consciously purported to be directed towards realization of Nirvana for all living beings. So, the Buddhist epistemological thinkers discussed atmasamvit (knowledge for ones own sake) and also parasamvit (knowledge for other’s sake). Dignaga in the beginning of Nyayapravesa writes,

       Sadhanam dusanam caiva sabhasam parasamvide

      Pratyaksamanumanam ca sabhasam tvatmasamvide.


“Giving arguments in support of one’s position and pointing out defects in the rival’s position, along with their respective fallacies are essential for communicating knowledge to others, whereas for acquiring knowledge for one’s sake perception and inference and their respective fallacies are essential.”


Right from the times of the Buddha there is insistence on proper knowledge based on right mental make up (samyak drsti). Though references are found in Pali literature to epistemological concepts and theories, particularly about consciousness and noetic process (cittavithi) for want of information it can only be said that systematic theorizing is available only in the Buddhist Sanskrit literature when the schools of Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Yogacara and Madhyamika came into existence.


It will be interesting and relevant to discuss the noetic process described in the Pali literature which can be regarded as precursor to later Buddhist epistemology.  Consciousness is the focal point of noetic process. Consciousness can be defined as ‘everything taken together that has the characteristic of cognizing is to be known as aggregate of consciousness.’ The Abhidharma tradition puts exclusive emphasis on immediate experience rather than discursive reasoning. It insists that genuine experience is attainable only in a kusala (pure and undefiled) citta.  That is why noetic process conducive to samadhi (meditation) leading to nirvana is put forth in a moral setting. According to Abhidharma all empirical cognitions are conditioned by kama (volition) which can be described as sense-relatedness or intentionality. Intentionality has two facets--one pertaining to the object and the other to the mental state. In every cognitive process there is an object which is intended to be cognized and there is an intention in which an object is intended to be cognized.  This may also be characterized as subjectivity.


Consciousness in itself is self-enveloped and dormant.  It is known as 'vithimukta'. When it gets activated it is known as vithicitta. The process of consciousness is technically known as Citta-vithi.  The cognitive process begins when the cognitive senses receive the reflex of objects – external or internal.  The external objects are received through five outer senses known as panca-dvara and the internal objects are cognized through mind known as mano-dvara.  For functioning of each type of course of cognition there is a distinct process and a specific object. 

The cognitive process which apprehends external objects is further classified under ten stages.  They are as under:-

1.     Bhvanga --  -It is a passive state of mind, going on smoothly on its own course, quite undisturbed, existing immediately prior to the appearance of any type of object.  It is also called atita bhavanga.  It is pre-reflective consciousness. Bhavanga also stands for the consciousness which one has while in deep sleep which is more or less passive than active. Arising and perishing every moment it flows on like a stream not remaining the same for two consecutive moments. Bhavanga is so called because it is an essential condition for continued existence. It may be called life-continuum. One always experiences bhavanga consciousness as long as it is uninterrupted by outside stimuli.

2.     Bhavanga-calana - - It is vibrated state of mind. When an object enters in the range of a cognitive sense, it creates a simple vibration in the smooth flow of mind just like falling of a pebble on the calm surface of water of a tank. It is beginning of the disturbance in the passive state of consciousness.

3.     Bhavanga-viccheda    -- Immediately after bhavanga-calana the smooth flow of mind is arrested.  It ceases to be a passive state and gets disturbed and vibrated.

4.     Pancadvaravajjana -   Avajjana means alertness or awareness. The cognitive senses become alert to receive the impressions of an object. It is sense consciousness or sensory consciousness. It is turning of consciousness towards an object.

5.     Indriya/Cakkhu vijnana      -   If the object is a visible one the object causes a sensation in the eyes.  The same is the case with other cognitive senses. It is sense operation upon the object.

6.     Sampaticchana citta    -- Immediately after the eye consciousness the mind attends to the object as something existing outside.  It is simply marking of an object and not determining its details.  'There is something' is cognized but 'what it is' is not known. So it is receiving consciousness, a consciousness which receives sensations. It is the moment of reception of the object so seen.

7.     Santirana citta  -   It is attending to the object and trying to determine its nature on the basis of past experience.  It is a determining cognition on the basis of past recollection. But here there is not full determination. So it is also known as investigating consciousness.

8.     Votthapana citta   -   It denotes the sense of determination.  The comparison of the details with past experience enables the mind to determine it as such and such. Here discrimination is exercised and freewill may play its part. It is determining consciousness.

9.      Javana citta   -    It is actively involved consciousness. It is an attitude of mind towards utilization or rejection of the object.  In case the object thus determined is an agreeable one the mind utilizes it and if it is otherwise the mind rejects it.  So it is psychologically important stage. Since an action is judged here as immoral or moral etc.  Javana literally means running. It is so called because it runs consecutively for seven consciousness-moments. The mental states occurring in all these thought moments are similar but the potential force differs.

10.    Tadalambana citta - - It literally means functioning on that object.  It lasts for two consciousness moments.  The entire cognitive process which takes place in an infinitesimal part of time ends with this.

In this way seventeen consciousness-moments are involved in the cognition of an object.  These seventeen moments complete full course of cognition of an external object.  It is to be noted that both matter and consciousness are momentary but endurance of matter is seventeen times more than that of consciousness.  In other words, one matter-movement equals seventeen consciousness-movements.  When an object comes in the range of sense organ the course of cognition begins.  By the time consciousness undergoes changes for seventeen times through different stages, the object remains in the same stage.  At the end of seventeen consciousness-moments the full course of cognition is complete and the duration of the object is also over.  The object ceases to exist giving rise to its effect.  When the object is fully cognized it is called 'very distinct object'.  It may be that the object does not meet with all the ten stages.  It may be that object comes into existence but does not attract cognitive process at the outset.  So there can be abrupt beginning or abrupt end.  In such a situation the cognition process is not complete and the object is not fully or properly cognized.  Thus the object can be clear (vibhuta) or obscure (avibhuta).

These ten stages of cognitive process arise in quick succession being regulated by the principle of pratitya samutapada.  The preceding and succeeding stages are marked by similarity as they are caused by the same object.  

Thus, the total process of cognizing consists of ten stages from Bhavanga to Tadalambana. First three stages are preliminaries. They stand for the mental preparedness for receiving the impressions.  The remaining seven are concerning the awareness of the object and are known as cittotpada (arising consciousness of an object).  Bhavanga is comparable to deep sleep.  It is a lazy state of mind.  After seventeenth moment there is bhavanga pata (cessation of cognitive process or vithi-bhanga).

Manodvara Vithi:

The internal objects like thoughts, feelings, sentiments etc. are cognized in a slightly different way as it involves the role of mind only.

The Concept of Citta:

The concept of citta plays a very significant role in Buddhist epistemology.  Cinoti iti cittam, on the basis of this etymology, citta can be understood as that which builds up its own continuity.  This means that citta is a complex of several factors or events which occur in succession.  These successive events can be named as caitta.  There is no separate entity called citta apart from the caittas.  In fact, citta is a convenient and conventional term to denote a variety of psychic events in an organized unity.  For all practical purposes caittas which are mental states alone are real and citta is just a fiction (prajnapti sat).


Another epistemic term employed by the Abhidhammic tradition is manas.  Manas is both a cognitive sense and the receiver of the sense impressions.  As a cognitive sense it functions at par with the other five senses.  Whereas these five senses namely eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin apprehend external objects, mind apprehends internal states.  The other function of mind is to receive the sense stimuli and here it comprehends both the objects of its own field and also the objects of the fields of outer senses.  In its overall functioning mind precedes and succeeds sense perception.  It precedes in the form of attending to the sense stimuli and its succeeding is in the form of discrimination and selection of the sense stimuli.  It is in this sense that we say, 'Eyes don't see but mind sees it'.  That is why the Buddhists use the word 'door' for the senses.

In the Abhidhammic tradition perception is described as of two types.  One is sensuous and the other is non-sensuous.  The sensuous perception is due to five cognitive senses, which have their respective fields of functioning and corresponding objects.  Every cognitive sense has its own distinct jurisdiction and class of objects to be cognized.  There is no over-stepping and intermingling in their jurisdiction.  Nor can they usurp the functioning of mind which is another factor involved in the process of cognition.

The non-sensuous perception is Yogic Perception.  It is available only in heightened state of consciousness.

To sum up, the cognitive process is interplay of mind with the five senses.  Each sense has its own mode of functioning e.g. 'Eye' has the nature of seeing, its capacity is activated by consciousness along with the totality of causes and conditions including the object, the eye consciousness and accessories like light etc.  The object appears, the eyes see and the eye consciousness knows.  The process gets completed in what is known as manovijnana dhatu which consists in grasping of the object of consciousness.

Before the start of the cognitive process citta is in a latent or natural state of existence.  It is known as vithimukta citta or pakkatimano.  It is also known as nibbuta citta.  Bhavanga is such a state of citta.  The cognitive process starts with bhavanga and ends in bhavanga (nibbuta citta). In its functioning as stated earlier citta is conditioned by emotional afflictions and ideational defilements but when it is freed from all this then it becomes bodhi citta which is prakrti prabhasvara citta (naturally luminous citta).



Distinct from the Theravada analysis of consciousness we find a full fledged epistemology in later Buddhism. Dignaga and his illustrious successor Dharmakirti have been the impelling force responsible for the development of the medieval Indian philosophy in general and epistemology and logic in particular. They have been the epistemological thinkers of the first order and their contributions to the philosophical thought have been unique and distinct. Both have been brilliant stars in the firmament of Indian philosophical horizon. It is therefore highly significant to study, analyze and evaluate the seminal contributions of Dignaga whose thoughts find culmination in Dharmakirti.  The main objective of this write-up is to expound and understand their philosophical ideas in the field of epistemology in the background of metaphysics and value-theory. It should be our endeavor to study both the constructive and critical aspects of Dignaga-Dharmakirti philosophical tradition with special reference to theory of knowledge so as to bring to the fore and evaluate its seminal contributions with a view to put them before the modern world scholarship for appreciation.


In the Dignaga-Dharmakirti tradition precursors like Maitreya, Asanga and Vasubandhu made pioneering attempts to construct epistemology on the Buddhist pattern. Maitreya discussed in detail the nature of reality and modes of knowing. He is the forerunner of the art of debate (vadavidhi) in Buddhist circles. Asanga followed Maitreya by and large but differed in respect of theory of proof. (sadhana). Vasubandhu carried forward and systematized this enterprise. However, it was Dignaga who put Buddhist epistemology on a solid footing and gave it a distinctive character. He imparted a new direction to Indian epistemology by giving a new mode of understanding the nature of knowledge and ways of knowing, in propounding a formal system of logic and a differential theory of language. He did it by interspersing the treatment of ontological issues within them, a style that was later on followed by Gangesa in the Nyaya School.  It was innovative of Dignaga to point out that epistemology has to be structured keeping in view the requirements of ontology (Meyadhinamanasiddhih). For this he composed distinct and independent treatises. The most significant work of Dignaga is Pramana-samuccaya with auto-commentary. It consists of six chapters dealing with pratyaksa (perception), svarthanumana (inference which is only cognitive for ones own sake), parathanumana (syllogistic inference which is verbalized for the sake of others), hetu-drstanta (reason-example), apoha (negation of the opposite) and jati (analogue). Another work ascribed to him is Nyaya-pravesa which deals with  anumana and its fallacies. Another small but very valuable work is Hetu-cakra-damaru  which outlines a formal system of logic. Forth work is Alambana-pariksa. Fifth work is Trikala-pariksa. Another work ascribed to him is Nyaya-mukha. Tibetan versions of all these works are available but lost original Sanskrit versions of some of them have been restored.


Dharmakirti is a prominent Buddhist thinker belonging to the syncretic phase of the Sautrantika-Yogacara tradition. He not only mastered the systems of Asanga, Vasubandhu and Dignaga but also excelled in them. He has several works to his credit but Pramana vartika can be regarded as his magnum opus in which he expounds his thought in a systematic and detailed form. It is advancement on the views of Dignaga propounded in Pramana samuccaya and it surpasses them. It consists of four chapters. The first deals with analysis of the pramanas in general, the second with pratyaksa as pramana, the third with svarthanumana (inference) and the fourth with pararthanumana (syllogism). The next work of Dharmakirti is Pramana viniscaya. It is an abridgment of Pramana vartika. The third work is Nyaya bindu which is a further abridgment. There are five other small tracts devoted to specific topics. Hetu bindu is a short classification of logical reasons based on the Hetu cakra damaru of Dignaga. Sambandha pariksa is an examination of the problem of relations. (See for details my paper in Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical research, Volume XIII, Number 3, May-August, 1996). Vada Nyaya and Codana prakarana are treatises on the act of carrying on disputation. Santanantara siddhi deals with the reality of other minds. It attempts to refute solipsism.


In the Pramana vartika Dharmakirti undertakes a systematic exposition of the Buddhist conception of ‘sarvajnata along with other arguments for proving the authoritativeness of the Buddha vacana. He gives an elaborate account of the nature, criteria and means of knowledge. He logically argues for the tenability of the theory momentary-ness and flux. He explains the meaning and significance of the fundamental Buddhist concept of ‘pratityasamuptada’. He delineates upon the nature and means of moksa (nirvana) along with an exposition of the ‘Four Noble Truths’. He provides a logical foundation to the theory of ‘Vijnaptimatrta’, a central thesis of the Vijnanavada School. He discusses the theories of karma, samsara and rebirth in the Buddhist context. He makes significant contribution in the exposition of the theory of ‘apoha’ in its ontological, epistemological and linguistic dimensions.




The Indian philosophical thought has developed only through mutual discussions, debates and encounters among different schools, systems and thinkers. “Vade vade jayate tattva bodhah” has been the guiding spirit in philosophizing. Right from the times of the Vedic thought it has been enjoined that the truth can be approached, understood and expressed in diverse ways and therefore the game of philosophizing can be played by mutual supplementations and complementarities. The development of philosophical thought in each school has not been in isolation or exclusion but in intimate interactions so much so that one can not understand much less appreciate the schools of Indian thought without at the same time being well-versed and steeped in the prevailing systems. There can be mutual corrections and borrowings. There can be agreements to disagree.  But there cannot be mutual ignoring or overlooking. Dharmakirti is no exception to this rule of the game. There have been sharp and brilliant philosophical responses by and to Dharmakirti. He undertook close encounters with the then prevalent ideas, theories and viewpoints and ably defended Buddhist position from the attacks and counter attacks of the rival systems and thinkers. He even developed and perfected the mode of debate (Vada- vidhi). His encounters with Samkhya-Yoga, Nyaya-Vaisesika, Purva and Uttara Mimamsas, Lokayata thinkers and Grammarian philosophers like Bhartrhari, Jaina thinkers and many others are notable and worth merit. His critical examination of the theories of Sphota of the Grammarians, Samavaya and other relations of the Naiyayikas, of the Nyaya proofs for the existence of the Creator God etc. is really penetrating and innovative. This tradition was carried forward ably by Santaraksita in Tattva-samgraha and by his commentator Kamalasila in his Panjika.






Every school of philosophy (Darsana) in India has attempted a theory of knowledge (pramana sastra) on which its metaphysical structure is built. The ultimate goal of all philosophizing, and for that matter of all human enterprises, is to realize freedom from pain and suffering, and experience peace and bliss. For the realization of the summum bonum of life knowledge of reality (tattva jnana) is an essential and necessary prerequisite. It is believed that a theory of knowledge is propaedeutic to a theory of reality because for knowing the reality one has to know knowledge itself. This belief is grounded in the fact that to philosophize (in Indian context) is to reflect on the nature of reality given in experience. Every experience is caused by and pertains to an object that is a part of reality. It has a built-in self-transcendence, a trans-phenomenal character, an  intentionality, pointing to an object (arthavisayakatva). This reference to the object may be cognitive or non-cognitive (emotive, volitional etc.). A cognitive reference consists in revelation of the object (jnanamarthaprakasakam) or in making the cognizer aware of it (arthadhigama) in terms of its existence, nature, relations and functions. Though every cognitive reference reveals an object, there is always a possibility of going astray in this reference and there is no guarantee that it will faithfully and adequately reveal its object. It may reveal its object as it is or other than what it is. This possibility of error in cognitive reference (visamvada) necessitates an inquiry into its veracity. That cognition is knowledge (prama /pramana) which is true or which is non-discordant with its object. There has to be indubitability with regard to the truth of the cognition in terms of its non-discordance. The truth-claim of knowledge has to be well evidenced. The entire epistemological pursuit begins with and centers round this task. Dignaga and Dharmakirti also have provided a firm epistemological basis to their theory of reality by constructing a theory of knowledge in keeping with the ‘process ontology’.


“All successful human action is necessarily preceded by knowledge”. With this prefatory remark Dharmakirti defines the scope and aim of epistemology in the Nyaya bindu. Human action may be either purposive or instinctive. Human purpose is again something either desirable or undesirable. A purposive action based on knowledge consists in attaining the desirable and avoiding the undesirable. Knowledge is efficacious in causing successful action in the sense that it results in the attainment of the desirable aim and avoidance of the undesirable one. A cause may be productive (karaka) or informative (jnapaka). Knowledge is a cause of successful action in the latter sense only. It enables us to reach the real, which alone has practical efficiency. However, it must be made clear that practical efficiency (arthakriyakaritva) is only the test of the truth of knowledge and not its laksana (criterion or definition). In the Pramana vartika he defines knowledge as a

 cognition that is not in discordance with its object (Pramanamavisamvadijnanam). He further maintains that a cognition that is perfectly in accord with its object will also be characterized by novelty (ajnatarthaprakaso va). It is revelatory of an object not yet known because the object is momentary in nature and only that knowledge will accord with object that arises at that very moment when the object is also in existence. It is the first moment of cognition, the moment of the first awareness. Unlike the thinkers of Nyaya School he maintains that continuous cognition (dharavahika jnana) is not true. Dharmottara in his commentary on the Nyaya bindu explains it as follows: “In common life when we say that truth is being spoken what we mean is that it makes us reach an object. Similarly, that cognition is true which makes us reach an object it points to. In fact, knowledge does not create an object and does not offer it to us, but just makes us reach at it. By making us reach to it nothing else is meant than attending to it.”


Dharmottara further specifies that knowledge is of two types. It is intuitive when it springs from inside. It is discursive when it is acquired by directing our attention toward an object with the help of the senses and the cognizing consciousness. Only discursive knowledge is analyzed in epistemology.






Indian thinkers generally adopt a causal approach to knowledge. Knowledge is taken to be an outcome of a particular causal complex in which the most efficient instrumental causal condition (karana) is technically known as pramana. In the Buddhist tradition, the word pramana refers to both the process of knowing and the knowledge acquired on that basis. The Buddhist thinkers do not entertain the distinction between the process of knowing (pramana) and its outcome (pramanaphala=prama). Whether or not pramana and pramanaphala are to be sharply distinguished has been a hotly debated issue between Nyaya and Buddhist thinkers. Nyaya thinkers insist that pramana as a process leading to prama should be distinguished from the latter, which is its result (phala). For them prama is the pramanaphala, and pramana is the karana of prama. Buddhist thinkers, however, maintain no distinction between the two. The act of cognizing completely coincides with the cognition of the object. The Naiyayikas are paratahpramanyavadins. For them pramana is the evidencing condition for the truth of knowledge and prama is the evidenced knowledge. For Buddhist knowledge is self-evidencing (svasamvit). This follows from the theories of dvairupya and sakarajnana propounded by Dignaga. Every knowledge is produced with two-fold appearance, viz., svabhasa (of itself) and visayabhasa/arthabhasa/arthakara (of the object). In being svabhasa a cognition cognizes itself. In being visayabhasa it establishes its truth because of its being in the form of the object (arthasarupya), i.e., non-discordant with its object. To be in the form of the object is the sufficient condition of its being true. Thus a cognition is never devoid of a form of its own.


The doctrines of svaprakasa and svatahpramanya go together. Not only is every cognition a cognition cognizing itself, but it also evidences itself. Thus the difference between the Buddhists and the Naiyayikas is in their understanding of the nature and role of pramana.  For the Buddhists pramana means that by which an object is known (pramiyate artho aneneti) whereas   the Naiyayikas understand pramana as that which is the most efficient causal condition giving rise to and evidencing the truth of knowledge (pramayah karanam iti pramanam). Dignaga, however, concedes that from functional point of view if a distinction is needed it can be drawn.


In the Dignaga-Dharmakirti tradition two different views are available about the nature of pramanaphala. According to one, pramanaphala consists in the cognition of the object (visayadhigama). According to the other it is self-cognition (svasamvitti). Both these views are complementary and not conflicting and are available in the works of Dignaga, Dharmakirti and Dharmottara. Santaraksita gathers them together and brings out their distinction. He maintains that according to the Sautrantika tradition which believes in bahyartahvada, sarupya is pramana while visayadhigati is pramanaphala. According to Vijananavada, sarupya is of course the pramana but svasamvedana is the pramanaphala. In the ultimate analysis these views are not different because visayadhigati and svasamvedana are not two different phenomena as they are two facets of the same knowledge-situation in Buddhist epistemology.


The idea that the truth of cognition is to be determined in terms of its reference to its object leads Buddhist thinkers to propound the theory of meyadhinamanasiddhih as different from the Nyaya and Samkhya view of manadhinameyasiddhih.  These are not to be taken as contradictory views but complementary only. Between reality and knowledge there is an intimate organic relation of mutuality. Reality is dependent on knowledge for being known (prakasa). This is noetic dependence. Knowledge is dependent upon reality for its origin (utpatti) and evidencing of its truth (jnapti). This is ontic dependence. The Buddhists emphasize ontic dependence whereas the Naiyayikas highlight noetic dependence. However, to make the distinction clear it must be admitted that the Buddhist thinkers argue that epistemology is to be structured to support ontology but the Naiyayikas insist that epistemology should lead to structuring of ontology. The Buddhist view led to acceptance of the position of pramanavyastha (separation of the spheres and functioning of pramanas) whereas the Nyaya view resulted in establishing the position of pramanasamplava (commingling of the different pramanas in their operation). According to the Buddhists there are two kinds of objects of knowledge, viz., the unique particular (svalaksana) and the generalized concept (vikalpa/samanyalaksana). The Naiyayikas refuse to draw such a distinction. This has resulted in a sharp distinction of philosophical positions of the two schools.


It has been one of the most significant tasks of philosophy to put forth a criterion of truth and a mode of its ascertainment. An enquiry into the problem of truth is necessitated because all cognitions are not alike in their truth values. Had they been so there would have been no need to evidence them. The very possibility of error in cognition demands its subjection to critical examination with a view to establish its veracity. If the veracity of cognition is to be established the question arises as to what sort of criterion is to be resorted to. The problem of pramana has been raised and discussed precisely because of this. According to Dignaga and Dharmakirti the truth of knowledge is intrinsic to it and consists in its coordination with the object. This is technically known as meyarupata or arthasarupya. (Arthasarupyamasyapramanam, Nyaya-bindu, I.19; Tasmat prameyadhigateh sadhanam meyarupata, Pramanavartika, II.306.) Knowledge is caused by its object and therefore it must possess the form of that object. In other words, since knowledge is determined by its object this determination is expressed as knowledge having the form of the object. Thus when we have a distinct cognition of something blue this cognition is determined by something blue and not something yellow, and this determination is made by the form of something blue in the cognition itself. In order that cognition has to be true it has to represent its object in its proper form. This is possible only when the cognition is arising in the form of the object.  The truth of cognition therefore consists in sameness of form with its object. The same thing has been stated by Dignaga as, “Whatever form of the thing appears in the cognition, as, e.g., something white or non-white, it is an object in that form which is cognized.” (Pramanasamuccayavrtti, I.9)


When Dignaga and Dharmakirti talk of sarupya as pramana it should not be misunderstood as advocacy of similarity of cognition with object  because cognition can never be similar to its object. Cognition and object belong to two different categories One is epistemic and the other is ontic. Therefore it will be meaningless to talk of their similarity. All that it means is that every cognition necessarily refers to its object and every true cognition has to refer to its object as it is. To refer to the object as it is has been figuratively expressed as the cognition having the form of the object. This point is made clear by Prajnakara while commenting on Pramana vartika II.309, with the example of a new born child who showing similarity to his father is said to have taken the form of the father, although he has no such function as taking his father’s form. It is just a metaphorical way of saying things.


According to the Dignaga-Dharmakirti tradition there are only two types of objects of knowledge, viz., grahya (the given, perceived) and adhyavaseya (mentally construed, conceived) and accordingly there are only two types of true cognitions viz., pratyaksa (perception) and anumana (inference). (Dvividho hi pramanasya visayo grahyasca yadakaramutpadyate prapaniyasca yamadhyavasyati. Anyo hi grahyam anyascaadyavaseyah,  Dharmottara’s commentary on the chapter on pratyaksa).  Corresponding to these two types of cognitions there are two types of akara or pratibhasa (form or reflex of the object). The perceptual cognition consists in a pratibhasa which is niyata (definite or fixedly determined) because it is caused by the object independent of perceiving consciousness and therefore objectively real. In the case of conceptual cognition the control of the object is remote and hence the pratibhasa here is aniyata (indefinite and vague). Both Dharmakirti and Dharmottara have made this point very clear. As Dharmaottara puts it, “The perceived object giving rise to awareness generates a regulated mental reflex (i.e., a reflex limited to that object). It is just like a patch of colour which giving rise to a visual awareness generates definite mental reflex limited to that patch. The conceptual awareness on the other hand is not directly generated by the object. Thus in the absence this causal factor regulating the mental reflex there is no fixed or definite mental reflex.”


Dignaga insists that every niyata pratibhasa has to be in coordination with its object because it is produced by that object only. An object can not produce any such pratibhasa

which does not accord with it. Logically therefore he rules out any possibility of deviation from its object in a niyata pratibhasa. That is why he defines pratyaksa simply as kalpanapodham and does not feel the need to add the adjective ‘abhrantam’. Dharmakirti, however, does not agree with him and maintains that an object may sometimes fail to give rise to its genuine pratibhasa. This point will be elaborated under discussion on pratyaksa.






Vasubandhu, Dignaga and Dharmakirti on perception (Pratyaksa)


There are two types of object to be known and accordingly there are only two ways of knowing which are pratyaksa and anumana. Corresponding to unique particular (svalaksana) we have pratyaksa (perceptual knowledge) and corresponding to samanyalaksana/ vikalpa there is anumana (inferential knowledge).  Pratyaksa is pure sensation, a direct sense apprehension of the unique particular. Anumana is is a mental construction in the form of generalized images. What is known in pratyaksa is not knowable in anumana and vice versa. Pratyaksa is foundational pramana in so far as anumana depends upon it. Anumana presupposes pratyaksa (pratyksaprsthabhavi). However both are equally important (tulyabala).


In the Vadavidhi Vasubandhu defines perception as “Tato’rthadvijanam pratyaksam, i.e., ‘perception is a cognition produced by the specific object.’ It is exclusively caused by the object as distinct from inference which is a mental construction. It is free from all conceptualization. Though he does not explicitly say so, this is his intension. The word ‘tato’ points out exclusive role of the object.


Instead of defining perception in terms of ‘object-generated’ cognition Dignaga, being an abstruse logician, defines it as “kalpanapodha, i.e., ‘free from mental construction’ perhaps because the idea of perception being ‘opposite of inference’ can be better expressed with the help of the technique of double negation. For the Buddhists all knowledge is either perceptual or conceptual (inferential), there being no third variety. Thus perception is not inference and inference is not perception. This is known as pramanavyavastha. . From this it follows that perception can be defined as ‘opposite of inference’. In fact there is no basic difference between Vasubandhu’s and Dignaga’s definitions. The same thing has been positively stated by one and negatively by the other.


A perceptual cognition is solely determined by its object and not in any way constructed by its object. The expression ‘kalpana’ is defined by him as ‘namajatyadiyojana’ which means association of concepts and words. So to say that it is ‘kalpanapodha’ means that it  is free from all mental constructions (kalpana, vikalpa) in terms of dravya (substance), guna (quality), karma (action, relation), jati (class character) and nama (verbalization). It is just what is given to us in immediate experience. It is the immediately given sensum in complete isolation from all conceptual and verbal determinations. Thus the theory of pratyaksa as nirvikalpaka was spearheaded by him. Perceptual cognition arises when an object gives rise to its reflex (pratibhasa) in the cognizing consciousness through the senses. It is called prati+aksa and not prati+visaya because even though the object is emphasized here the senses are the specific cause whereas object is only a common cause.


The usual definitions of perception in terms of ‘sense-object contact’ given by Nyaya-Mimamsa and Jaina schools and in terms of ‘modification of internal cognitive sense’ (antahkaranavrtti) given by  Samkhya and Advaita Vedanta are not acceptable to Dignaga , as perception is pure sensation (pratibhasa) caused by the object in the cognizing consciousness. A cognitive sense has its own object and its own function. Its object is unique particular (svalaksana) which alone being real and efficient can produce sensation. Its function is to make the object present to the cognizing consciousness. Thus perception consists in an awareness of presence of the object, its mere presence and nothing more. To construct a determinate awareness of the object whose presence has thus been sensed is another function which follows in the wake of the first. This is known as mental construction (pratibhasa pratiti) which is the function of mind. Accordingly, a distinction is drawn between “Nilam vijaniti” (cognizing blue) and “Nilamiti vijaniti” (cognizing that it is blue) following the Abhidharma.


According to Dignaga erroneous cognition is not perception as it arises due to conceptual construction. All errors are consequences of faulty mental constructions. At the level of pure sense data there is no question of error because the sense data are wholly given by the object and there can be no error.  That is why he does not include the term ‘abhrantam’ in his definition of pratyaksa.


Dharmakirti following Dignaga defines perception as ‘kalpanapodha’ (free from mental construction) but adds the adjective ‘abhrantam’ (non-erroneous). The object of perception is svalaksana, which is unique particular having nothing in common with any other object similar or dissimilar. This object is not a mental construct (samanya laksana, vikalpa) in the form of substance, quality, relation, class character and linguistic expression.  He defines kalpana as ‘abhilapasamsargayogyapratibhasapratiti’.  It is mental construction. Every mental construction is determinate cognition and not just pure sensation. Determination is function of cognizing consciousness and as such it can not be regarded as a part of perceptual cognition. He draws a clear distinction between pratibhasa (indeterminate) and pratibhasapratiti (determinate). Pratibhasapratiti is kalpana which is paroksa.  Pratibhasa is perception and not the later which follows the former. Pratibhasa is incapable of verbalization ( anabhilapya) whereas pratibhasapratiti (determinate cognition) alone is capable of verbalization (abhilapasamsargayogya). It has potential verbalization.  His argument is that no verbalization can take place in the absence of conceptualization and there is no conceptualization in perception. In other words, perception, which is pure sensation, is only to be experienced. Though it is necessary that there can not be verbalization without conceptualization, the reverse is not the case.


Differing from Dignaga Dharmakirti says that perceptual cognition should be defined as free from error, because cognitive sense can also be a causal factor for error. Accordingly he analyses four types of error, caused by defective cognitive sense, spatial placement of object, spatial placement of cognizer, and mental state of cognizer. He mentions instances of error caused by colour blindness, rapid motion, travelling in a boat, mental sickness, and so on. Dharmottara points out that these four different illustrations represent four different types of error. The cause of colour blindness is located in the sense organ (indriyagata), the cause of motion resulting in the cognition of fiery circle is located in the object (visayagata), the cause of illusion of moving trees is located in the external circumstances that condition the perceiver (bahyasrayasthita), and the cause of hallucinatory illusions is located in the internal circumstances (adhyatmagata)


Perceptual cognitions are classified by Dignaga and Dharmakirti into four types: sense perception (indriya pratyaksa), mental perception (manasa pratyaksa), self-perception (svasamvedana pratyaksa) and mystical perception (yogi pratyaksa). Sense perception is caused by external object. Mental perception consists in mental awareness of an object which is derivative from the object of immediately preceding sense perception. Self-perception is internal awareness of all mental phenomena like knowledge, desire etc. The concept of self-perception is one of the most significant contributions of Dignaga. According to him each cognition cognizes itself while cognizing an object. The scope of self-perception has been enlarged by Dignaga to include the awareness of conceptual constructions also. The intuitions apprehended by yogis are perceptual direct awareness.


In Dharmakirti we find detailed analysis of these four types of perception with greater clarity and depth. So far as indriya pratyaksa is concerned it is most fundamental and pervasive type of perception. Such knowledge consists in presentation of an object to consciousness through the medium of the senses. The cognitive sense are only medium (dvara), not agent. Their function consists only in creating a sort of link between cognizing consciousness and objective reality outside. Manasa pratyaksa immediately follows indriya pratyaksa. It is in fact the element of attention when indriya pratyaksa arises. That is why Dharmakirti in the Nyaya-bindu defines it as, “mental sensation which follows sense perception, which is its immediately preceding homogeneous cause”. (For details refer my book on Buddhist Epistemology). Svasamvedana pratyaksa is cognition cognizing itself along with cognizing its object. Cognition of all mental states also comes under it.( For details refer to my book) . Dharmakirti defines yogi jnana as intuition of yogi that is produced from sub-culminational state of deep meditation on transcendental reality. It is experience realized in the state of samadhi. Dharmakirti states that yogi pratyaksa is generated by deep contemplation, and it is vivid and free from conceptual construction.






Dignaga and Dharmakirti on inference (anumana)


The other mode of knowing accepted in the Buddhist epistemology is inference (anumana) which subsumes other pramanas like sabda. It is both a mode of knowing and a way form of reasoning. Thus it has epistemic and logical aspects inseparably coalesced into one.  The earliest formulation of Buddhsit theory of inference is available in the Yogacarabhumisastra of Maitreya and Prakaranaaryavacasastra of Asanga, though in the Kathavatthu several terms of reasoning and logic are available. A systematic study of the theory of inference is introduced by Vasubandhu in the Buddhist tradition. Dignaga gave it a new direction and impetus. His analysis of inference was so strikingly original that Nyaya circles also had to take cognizance of it. A distinctive contribution of Dignaga has been to draw a distinction between inference as a pure thought process and its linguistic expression (prakasana/akhyana). The former is purely propositional and the latter is sentential. The other innovation of Dignaga is advocacy of a variety of inference which may be called analytical entailment (svabhavanumana), in which one concept is so connected with another concept that the former can be inferred from another. The most important and innovative contribution is presentation of a formal schema of different relations of hetu (reason, probans, middle term) with sadhya (probandum, major term) known as hetucakra, and pointing out the conditions of validity of inference on that ground. This is an attempt to construct a formal system of logic. Dignaga’s system of inference is further explicated and elaborated by Dharmakirti. His special contribution is systematic formulation of the negative entailment relation with its eleven varieties. Lastly, in Dignaga we find a new understanding of the concept of anumeya. According to the Nyaya logicians sadhya is anumeya, but for Dignaga it is paksa characterized by sadhya which is anumeya. The later Naiyayikas emphasize the co-locus-hood (ekadhikaranya) of hetu and sadhya in paksa, whereas Dignaga talks of hetu and sadhya as co-properties (dharma) of paksa. Dignaga’s formulation of theory of anumana was further explicated by Dharmakirti in his Pramana vartika and Nyaya bindu and other works. His main contribution lies in elaboration of the doctrine of trairupya linga.


The process of inference is a thought process consisting of antecedent knowledge (premises) and consequent knowledge (conclusion). The two must have entailment relationship (gamaka-gamaya bhava) which is technically known as avinabhava or vyapti (necessary concomitance). Avinabhava constitutes the logical ground for the process of anumana. The antecedent leads to, or gives rise to, the consequent and is therefore a gamaka (that which entails). The consequent results from the antecedent and is therefore the gamya (that which is entailed). This entailment relation is due to an existential tie (svabhava pratibandha) which is a necessary relation between a logical mark (linga) and the object of which it is a mark (lignin). In the Buddhist view the logical mark and the object of which it is a mark are concepts only, and not things or events or metaphysical reals, as in other systems.



Anumana has been defined by Vasubandhu in the Vadavidhi as, “Nantariyakartha darsanam tadvido anumanam.” That is, anumana is knowledge arrived at on the basis of inseparable relation of hetu with sadhya by a person who knows that relation. This definition is acceptable to Dignaga and Dharmakirti but keeping the concept of trairupyalinga as the focal point they give another definition which is expressed by Dharmakirti in the Nyaya bindu as, “Trairuyallingad yadanumeye jnanam tad svarthanumanam.” This definition takes into account the distinction between svarthanumana and parathanumana, the latter being linguistic expression of the former. Dharmottara gives etymological definition as, “Lingagrahana sambandhasmaranasya pascanmanamanumanam. Here anumana is defined as that cognition which is implied by the perception of the linga that characterizes the paksa and the remembering of the necessary concomitance between the hetu and sadhya.


The process of inference involves three basic terms and their interrelations. The three terms are minor (paksa), middle (hetu or linga) and major (sadhya or lignin). There are three types of relations among them. The first two are constitutive of premises, one being relation of middle term to minor term known as paksadharmata, and the other is relation between middle term and major term known as vyapti (necessary concomitance). The third relation is anumiti (conclusion), a relation between minor term and major term.



Paksa stands for the subject under consideration in the inferential reasoning.  Every inferential reasoning pertains to some individual or class of individuals about which we want to infer or establish something.  It is technically known as paksa. Etymologically paksa (pacyate iti paksah) means that to which hetu and sadhya belong as its properties.  In this sense it is referred to as dharmin, the underlying substratum to which hetu and sadhya are ascribed as dharmas. This idea was later developed in Navya Nyaya as ‘ekadhikaranya or samanadhikaranya’.   Paksa is subject under consideration in inferential reasoning. Therefore it is called anumeya and defined as jijyasita viseso dharmi.  Though at the level of objective reality Buddhists do not entertain the distinction between dharma and dharmin at the conceptual level, which underlies all our worldly behaviour, such a distinction is very much necessary because no conceptualization can take place without bringing in distinctions in terms of dravya, guna, karma, jati and nama. Since paksa may stand for an individual or a class of individuals a distinction is drawn between two types of concept corresponding to a paksa, namely, having universal denotation (sakaladesavrttitva) and having individual or particular denotation. (ekadesavrttitva). From another point of view distinction can again be drawn between ‘time bound’ (as in karyanumana) and ‘time free’ (as in svabhanvanumana) paksa. In Pracina Nyaya paksa is regarded as ‘samdigdha sadhyavan but in Buddhist it is ‘jijnasita sadhyayavan and in Navya Nyaya there is transition to sisadhayisa’. This development in thought is very interesting.


The hetu or linga (middle term) is a pivotal element in the process of inference. It is a necessary mark of the sadhya (major term) and therefore becomes the ground or reason for its inference (hinotiiti gamayati paroksartham). In order to serve this function it has to satisfy three formal requirements. Only after meeting these requirements it becomes valid middle term (sadhetu) and renders the inferential reasoning valid. The three conditions are:

i)                     its necessary presence in subject’s totality (anumeye sattvam)

ii)                   its necessary presence in similar instances only, although not in their totality (sapaksevasattvam)

iii)                  its necessary absence from dissimilar instances in their totality. (asapakse casattvameva niscitam)

Qualified by these three conditions the middle term is known as trairupya linga (three-featured middle term). The middle term is a property of the minor term. Dignaga defines it as that apprehended property of the minor term which is pervaded by the major term.


According to the Buddhists there are three types of hetu, namely svabhava (essential identity), karya (effect) and anupalabdhi (non-cognition). On the basis of these three types of middle term there are three types of inferences, named as svabhavanumana, karyanumana and anupalabdhi anumana.



Svabhava hetu is defined as the one whose mere existence is sufficient for the establishment of sadhya. For example, in the inference, “It is a flower because it is a rose”, the hetu, namely, rose is sufficient for proving the sadhya, namely, flower. The two have sameness of reference (tadatmya). Both are existentially identical, and have the relation of analytical entailment. The second type of hetu is karya hetu which is in the form of an effect necessarily presupposing its cause. The causal relation is a relation of succession different from the relation of identity which is that of simultaneity or co-existence. The third type of hetu is anupalabdhi which is negative in nature.  It is defined as ‘non-cognition of such an object that otherwise fulfills the conditions of cognizability. The non-cognition of a thing is sufficient to infer non-existence of that thing on the ground that if it were present it would have been necessarily perceived when all other conditions of perceptibility are fulfilled. Dharmakirti has discussed eleven varieties and Moksakaragupta has added five more to this.  Sadhya (major term) is that property of the minor term which is to be proved or inferred. The object of inferential reasoning (anumeya), therefore, is not the major term alone but the major term as being the property of the minor term.



There are two more terms that occur in the process of inference. They are sapaksa (homologue) and asapaksa or vipaksa (heterologue). Homologue is similar to minor term in so far as it necessarily possesses the major term as its property. For example, if fire is the property to be inferred in relation to a hill then all those instances like kitchen etc. where fire is known to be a property constitute homologue.  A homologue is similar to the minor term only in the respect that both of them comprehend a similar property. Dissimilar to homologue and the minor term is the heterologue. In other words, it is that which is never a possessor of a property possessed by the minor term and the homologue. It is of three types, (a) different from sapaksa (anya), (b) contrary to sapaksa (viruddha) and (c) absence of sapaksa (abhava).



Paksadharmata constitutes one of the necessary grounds for the process of anumana. It consists in judjmentalization of the perceptual cognition of hetu located in paksa. It stimulates the process of anumana.



The other ground of the inferential process  is vyapti which is  the    relation between hetu and sadhya which can be understood in terms of necessary dependence (avinabhavaniyama).  The Buddhist conception of vyapti stands for an invariable necessary connection.  Vyapti is a necessary bond because of the fact that it is rooted in what is technically known as svabhava pratibandha or existential dependence.  Existential dependence means dependent existence.  It may be in the form of a causal relation or an analytical entailment.  For example, the dependence of effect on its cause enables us to infer the cause the moment the effect is known to us.  Similarly, an analytically deduced fact by its very essence depends upon the fact from which it is deduced.  Thus there is svabhava pratibandha between cause and effect and between the deduced object and that from which there is deduction.  The example of the former type is the relation between smoke and fire and of the latter type is the relation between rose and flower.  We can deduce one fact from another only if there is existential dependence.  It can be asked why is it that we can deduce one fact from another only if there is existential dependence. The answer given by the Buddhist logicians is that this is so because effect which is not dependent upon another object cannot be invariably and necessarily concomitant with the later.  In other words, if effect is not tied up by its existence to another object, it can not be necessarily concomitant with the latter.  There will be no invariability (avyabhicara).  Thus the possibility of deducing one fact from the other depends upon an invariable and necessary connection which precludes the existence of the one without the existence of the other.  Therefore, if two facts are existentially connected we can assert that one of them can not exist independently of the other and therefore from the presence of the one follows the presence of the other.



The most significant and fundamental contribution of Dignaga is to give  a formal schema of nine valid and invalid types of anumana/anumanabhasa based on three logically possible relations of hetu with sapaksa and asapaksa. His work titled,  Hetucakradamaru is a primer of ‘Buddhist Formal Logic.’ (For details see my book ‘Buddhist Epistemology)








Dignaga and Dharmakirti on differential theory of language (apoha)


In the Buddhist system language is a part of epistemological discourse in the context of verbalized cognition. Language is not a separate source of knowledge, nor does it describe reality. The real is only perceptual and perceptual is inexpressible. Only conceptual knowledge is expressible in language. Language is a result of mental construction and hence it refers to mental concepts only.


The method of apoha has been a technique of philosophizing cultivated and developed in the Dignaga-Dharmakirti tradition of Buddhist thought. It has been used in dealing with ontological, epistemological, logical and linguistic issues with great ingenuity and precision to understand and appreciate the basic doctrines of Buddhist view and way of life. It helps in proper understanding of the nature of reality, thought and language from Buddhist perspective. It is an approach based on the theory of differentiation and mutual exclusion. It views anyonyabhava (mutual exclusion) between every element of reality (in the form of dharma known as svalaksana), between every conceptualization of reality (in the form of samanyalaksana known as vikalpa) and between meaning of every linguistic expression (in the form of abhilapa known as nama or sabda). Every element of reality, thought and language is discrete from (svato vyavartaka) but inter-relatable with the rest of its kind and fine-tuned inter-netting is possible between and among them. All are pratityasamutpanna and thus they are interdependent. Generally Apoha has been known as a theory of meaning and its ontological, epistemological and logical dimensions have not been emphasized. It is interesting to note that according to the Buddhist view every svalaksana and every vikalpa is a counter correlate of its opposite (anyapoha). Therefore no apprehension of any one, whether it is perceptual or conceptual or linguistic, is possible without delimiting it by excluding the rest. Every determination is negation in this sense. The reality in itself is indeterminate and any attempt to determine it has to proceed through anyapoha only. It is to be undertaken by the principle of double negation. Every dharma is distinct and discrete and it can be understood as the counter correlate of its opposite. To use the terminology of Class Calculus, it is like a class that is the counter correlate of its complement class. The same holds good with regard to a vikalpa and a sabda.


The meaning of a word stands for the relation of word and concept. In a verse attributed to Dignaga it is stated that words originate in concepts and concepts originate in words. The two are interdependent and interspersed. The nature and function of the two are similar. A concept is a mental construct. It is an exclusion or differentiation of one mental construct from all other mental constructs. By its very essence it is an exclusion of the other. It is the negation of all supposed possibilities other than itself. Likewise, a word coveys its meaning by negating its contrasting meaning. It is the affirmation of its own meaning necessarily by the negation of its opposite meaning. A word expresses its meaning per differentium. Without negation it expresses nothing. A word conveys a positive meaning qualified by exclusion of its opposites. For example, all that the word ‘cow’ expresses is the exclusion of ‘non-cow’ and thereby communicates its meaning. The meanings of words ‘cow’ and ‘non-cow’ consist in the negation of each other. It is to be made clear that only the contradictory meanings are to be negated. Thus, we can have joint assertion of ‘white’ and ‘cow’ but cannot assert ‘cow’ and ‘non-cow’ together.


We have to attempt to understand afresh the Buddhist theory of Apoha, in the context of language, as a continuity of thought from Dignaga to Ratnakirti. It does not seem to be correct to hold that there have been three stages in the development of this theory centering round Dignaga-Dharmakirti as Negativists, Santaraksita-Kamalasila as Positivists, and Jnanasrimitra-Ratnakirti as Synthetics. Such a view runs counter to the very assertions of each later thinker coming after Dignaga who claims to follow Dignaga and Dharmakirti in his responses to NyayaMimamsa critiques of the Buddhist position by reformulating the ideas of his predecessors. Neither Santaraksita and Kamalasila nor Jnanasrimitra and Ratnakirti state that they are differing or deviating from their masters. They only claim to expound the views of their masters to clarify the doubts, queries and misunderstandings of the critics.


For a proper understanding of the Buddhist philosophy, and its doctrine and practices, one should always remember the advice, or rather the injunction, given by Nagarjuna that there are two distinct standpoints to approach them, viz., the empirical (samvrti) and the trans-empirical (paramartha). He avers, “Dve satye samasritya buddhanam dharmadesana”. He makes it clear that both are necessary and useful in a successive order. He says, “Vyavaharamanasritya paramartho na desyate. Paramarthamanagatya nirvanam nadhigamyate.” This is a very categorical and unambiguous statement. Most of the misunderstandings of the theory of Apoha have arisen because of overlooking of this advice.


The Buddhists of the Dinnaga and Dharmakrti tradition, like the Upanisadic thinkers, draw a clear distinction between the ‘tattva(ens) and the ‘padartha’(object of knowledge and linguistic representation). The tattva is pure existence apprehensible (grahya) through perceptual cognition that is bare sensation (pratibhasa) of the tattva as its object. The tattva and its sense apprehension are beyond the ken of the intellect and language. The intellect can only attend to the sensation, and can conceptualize and verbalize it as a padartha in the form of dravya, guna, karma, jati and nama. This is known as kalpana that plays its role through vikalpa and sabda. It should be made clear that the intellect can play its legitimate role only if there are sensations to be attended to. Its task is to transform pratibhasa into pratibhasa pratiti. The object then is conceptualized (adhyavasita). The point to be noted is that the real (vastutattva) is never the object of thought and language. It can only be perceived and can never be conceived. Of course every genuine conceptualization has to be preceded by sensation. So conceptualization is pratyksaprsthabhavi, i.e., arises in the wake of perception only. The real is presented in perception and it is represented in conception. Only when the real is first presented in perception and represented in conception it can stimulate practical activity (vyavahara or pravrtti).


As stated earlier according to Buddhist tradition there are two types of object of knowledge. One is the grahya that is perceived and the other is adyavaseya that is conceived. The grahya is svalaksana, the unique particular, and the adyavaseya is samanyalaksana which is generalized representation. Concepts and words pertain to samanyalaksana only, and they have nothing to do with the real, svalaksana, directly. So in the context of language the Buddhist draws a distinction between referent and referend. Word directly refers to referend only. The object ,say a cow, is directly grasped or sensed in perceptual cognition whereas the object in conceptual awareness is determined as ‘cow-ness’ or ‘cow form.’ In the knowledge arising from utterance of the word ‘cow’ what we determine is an ‘object’ out there on which we superimpose cow-ness this cow-ness is to be interpreted as exclusion of non-cows. Here the determination is in the form, “It is not a non-cow”, it excludes our non-cow supposition. On hearing the word ‘cow ’we not only apprehend cow-ness but also determine an external object as being excluded from non-cows. So upon hearing the word ‘cow’ we have a mental image of cow in general which takes the form of something excluded from non-cows. But the object of our practical activity is induced by that verbal knowledge is a particular and real object which is characterized by being excluded from non-cows.


The theory of Apoha, in the context of language is an arrangement only (vyavastha matra) to understand meaning of a word and language. According to it a word does not directly refer to a real (vastutattva) that is ineffable. It is only an adhyasa(superimposition) on it. Or, it can be its abhasa in the intellect.  Though Dignaga gave a systematic formulation to the theory of Apoha and made use of it in philosophizing about reality, thought and language, it is Vyadi who is his precursor in propounding this theory of language and advocating padavada as different from Vajapyayana who propounded vakyavada. Bhartrhari reconciled the two in the Vakyapadiya. Dignaga also attempted a similar reconciliation. So he should not be regarded as padavadin or vakyavadin alone. Likewise he would accept both Abhihitanvayavada and anvitabhidhanavada in different contexts. It will not be proper to regard him as an exclucivist. The theory of apoha is very much comparable to the theory of sphota of Bhartrhari.




Suggested readings;-

1.       Dignaga--        Pramana samuccaya

2.       Dharmakirti—(a) Nyaya bindu with Tika of Dharmotttara

                              (b) (Pramana vartika)

3.   Santaraksita---Tattva samgraha with Panjika of Kamalashila

4.   S.R.Bhatt----   Chapter on ‘Logic and Language in Buddhism’

                               published in ‘Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy’,

                               Routledge, London & New York, 1997

5.       S.R.Bhatt         Buddhist Epistemology,

         &                   Greenwood publishing House, Connecticut, USA, 2000

      Anu Mehrotra

6.   S.R.Bhatt           Noetic process (Citta vithi)—A Theravada Buddhist View        

                                Dharma and Abhidharma, Vol. II, Somaiya Publications,  





Sideshwar Rameshwar Bhatt

Former Professor and Chair. Department of Philosophy,

University of Delhi, India.

     e-mail < srb_indiaphil (at) yahoo.co.in>





             About Prof. S.R.Bhatt


Professor S.R.Bhatt is an eminent philosopher and Sanskritist. He was General President of Indian Philosophical Congress and Akhil Bharatiya Darshan Parishad (All India Philosophy Association). He retired as Professor and Head, Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi. He is internationally known as an authority on Ancient Indian Culture, Buddhism, Jainism and Vedanta. His research areas include Indian Philosophy, Logic, Epistemology, Ethics, Value-theory, Philosophy of Education, Philosophy of Religion, Social and Political Thought etc. He has lectured in many universities and research institutes of India, China, Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Turkey, Germany, United States and Trinidad. He is a member of many national and international associations. He is a Regional Coordinator of Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, USA, which has brought more than 170 volumes on world cultures and civilizations.


Prof. Bhatt has organized more than 50 national and international conferences, seminars and workshops. He has authored and edited 18 books and has more than 100 published research papers to his credit. His important publications are The Philosophy of Pancharatra; Studies in Ramanuja Vedanta; Knowledge, Values and Education; Buddhist Epistemology; The Concepts of Atman and Paramatman in Indian Thought; Major Religions of the World; Buddhist Thought and Culture in India and Korea(Ed.) ; Buddhist Thought and Culture in India and Japan (Ed.); Glimpses of Buddhist Thought and Culture(Ed.);Nyayamanjari of Jayanta Bhatta (Hindi translation from Sanskrit)