The Philosophical Works and Influence of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti
- LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0085
- LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0085
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.
Warder 1980 provides a thorough survey of the history of Indian Buddhism, including useful treatments of both Dignāga and Dharmakīrti. Mookerjee 1975, a seminal treatment of the overall project of these thinkers, remains useful, as does the historically significant Stcherbatsky 1962; both works, however, exemplify a tendency (common among scholars both traditional and modern) to read Dignāga through the lens of Dharmakīrti, misleadingly suggesting that these thinkers represent a monolithic school of thought. A good philosophical treatment of Dignāga’s thought is given in Hayes 1988, which is sensitive to some important differences between Dignāga and Dharmakīrti. Dreyfus 1997, though considering Dharmakīrti particularly in light of some Tibetan interpreters of him, gives an extensive and philosophically sophisticated treatment of Dharmakīrti’s thought; the similarly thorough overview by Dunne 2004, in contrast, sticks to Dharmakīrti’s earliest Indian commentators, aiming for an account that stays as close as possible to Dharmakīrti’s texts. Eltschinger 2010, an outstanding article-length presentation of Dharmakīrti’s thought, gives a philosophically sensitive overview that is remarkably complete given its relative brevity. Matilal 1986 is a touchstone for the philosophical study of Indian epistemology in general.
Dreyfus, Georges B. J. Recognizing Reality: Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy and Its Tibetan Interpreters. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
Principally considering two divergent strands of Tibetan interpretation of Dharmakīrti, Dreyfus—whose access to Dharmakīrti’s works is mainly through Tibetan translations and interpretations thereof—draws on Wilfrid Sellars and others in offering a philosophically comparative introduction to Dharmakīrti’s project.
Dunne, John D. Foundations of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2004.
Dunne introduces Dharmakīrti’s philosophy according to his earliest Indian commentators (Śākyabuddhi and Devendrabuddhi, whose works are extant only in Tibetan translations). Invoking a “sliding scale of analysis,” Dunne argues that Dharmakīrti’s claims differ depending on whether taken from an empiricist perspective or from the idealist Yogācāra view Dharmakīrti finally upholds.
Eltschinger, Vincent. “Dharmakīrti.” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 64.3 (2010): 397–440.
Given its relative conciseness, this is a remarkably thorough overview, touching on a whole range of philosophical and contextual issues relevant to the characterization and understanding of Dharmakīrti’s project. Includes a lengthy (if hard-to-read) bibliography.
Hayes, Richard. Dignāga on the Interpretation of Signs. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1988.
A philosophically sophisticated presentation of Dignāga’s thought, which (against interpretive trends both traditional and modern) Hayes takes to differ significantly from Dharmakīrti’s. Understanding Dignāga to exemplify an authentically Buddhist skepticism, Hayes focuses particularly on Dignāga’s logic, including translations of lengthy sections of the Pramāṇasamuccaya’s chapters on inference and apoha.
Matilal, Bimal Krishna. Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.
Though not focused particularly on Dignāga or Dharmakīrti—their work is here addressed passim, but Matilal typically presents the Brahmanical Nyāya tradition most extensively and sympathetically—this work is foundational for the philosophically engaged study of Indian epistemology.
Mookerjee, Satkari. The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux: An Exposition of the Philosophy of Critical Realism as Expounded by the School of Dignāga. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975.
A dated but still valuable book, this work offers an unusually comprehensive account of the overall project of Dignāga (read in light of Dharmakīrti). Mookerjee often characterizes Dignāga’s thought in terms of the larger Indian philosophical conversation that is its native context. First published in 1935.
Stcherbatsky, F. Th. Buddhist Logic. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1962.
This historically significant work by a pioneering scholar of Buddhist studies—though it reflects rather dated neo-Kantian interpretive predilections, and is surely superseded by the works of Dreyfus and Dunne—remains valuable. Volume 1 gives a survey of Dignāga’s and (especially) Dharmakīrti’s philosophy; Volume 2 gives a complete translation of Dharmakīrti’s Nyāyabindu (with Dharmottara’s commentary), plus selections from Indian critics like Vācaspatimiśra. First published in 1932.
Warder, A. K. Indian Buddhism. 2d rev. ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.
An unusually comprehensive treatment of the Indian Buddhist tradition, with a focus (uncommon in works of this scope) on doctrinal matters, Warder’s book usefully characterizes the works of Dignāga (pp. 448–465) and Dharmakīrti (pp. 469, ff.) relative to the complex textual traditions of which they were part.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese