In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dharmakīrti

  • Introduction
  • Dating, Life, and Works
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Collected Volumes and Conference Proceedings
  • Editions
  • Translations
  • Refutations of Brahminical and Jaina Views

Buddhism Dharmakīrti
Birgit Kellner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0284


The Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti (between mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries CE) is one of the most significant and challenging thinkers in India’s history. Next to his predecessor Dignāga (b. c. 480–d. 540), from whom he was separated by one scholarly generation, he counts as one of the two main founding figures of an intellectual tradition within Buddhism that focused on the analysis of knowledge and reasoning; in South Asia this tradition was active for approximately 700 years. It is also called the logico-epistemological or pramāṇa school of Buddhist philosophy, pramāṇa being the Sanskrit term for a “means of valid cognition”—a source of knowledge—the central concept of Classical Indian epistemology at large. Dharmakīrti is the product of, and, in turn, helped shape, a diverse religio-philosophical landscape populated by Buddhist, brahminical, Jaina, and other traditions that interacted with one another through constructive, but also critical engagement in an atmosphere fueled by socio-religious competitiveness. Within Buddhism, Dharmakīrti’s ideas significantly relate to views regarded as characteristic for the Sautrāntika school of thought. He also facilitated reformulations of Yogācāra and Madhyamaka doctrines, in part through the formulation of influential proofs in the philosophy of mind. Beyond Buddhist circles, they were subjected to fierce criticism, but they were also selectively adopted by Jainas and within Śaivism. Dharmakīrti adopted Dignāga’s system prescribing two, and only two means of valid cognition, perception, and inference, that respectively, apprehend different types of objects, the unique particular and the universal. But he also addressed historically new problems, ventured into new areas, and induced shifts in perspective. Among others, he formulated an ontology of particulars grounded in their causal efficacy and purely momentary existence, developed Dignāga’s nominalist theory of universals and concepts as being constructed through a process of exclusion (apoha), outlined a distinctive method for determining causation, and devised methods for ascertaining nonexistence. In the realm of logic, Dharmakīrti’s distinctive and rigorous theory of inference ultimately grounds the soundness of reasoning in ontological relations and restricts the realm of acceptable reasons to three types. Unlike Dignāga, Dharmakīrti also articulated a distinct Mahāyānist philosophy of religion striving to offer a rational account of the Buddhist path, its foundations, and its goals, which recent scholarship has argued to be closely related to key elements of his epistemology and logic. Beyond South Asia and Sanskritic philosophy, Dharmakīrti’s thought and its later Indian developments exerted a powerful influence on Tibetan intellectual history, where theories and methods that ultimately go back to his works remain a part of monastic curricula even today, especially in the Sakyapa [Sa skya pa] and Gelukpa [Dge lugs pa] schools.

Dating, Life, and Works

The stipulative dating of Dharmakīrti to 600–660 CE in Frauwallner 1961 has been called into question several times, most recently in Krasser 2012. Krasser’s new earlier dating of Dharmakīrti to the middle of the sixth century has been criticized, in turn, in Franco 2015–2018; the chronological and methodological questions raised by both have stimulated further discussion. Deleanu 2019 is the latest contribution. Given that the debate continues, many currently prefer a cautious dating to between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries CE. Eltschinger 2019 is an up-to-date account of Dharmakīrti’s life as depicted in Tibetan historiographical literature, as well as of works attributed to him. Frauwallner 1982 (originally published in 1954) establishes the chronological sequence of Dharmakīrti’s logico-epistemological works as being Pramāṇavārttika (“Commentary on the means of valid cognition”), Pramāṇaviniścaya (“Determination of the means of valid cognition”), Nyāyabindu (“Drop of logic”), Hetubindu (“Drop of reason”), and Vādanyāya (“Method of debate”). Two remaining uncontroversial attributions, the Santānāntarasiddhi (“Proof of other minds”) and the Sambandhaparīkṣā (“Inquiry into relations”) are minor works dealing with specific philosophical problems; they still await chronological assignment.

  • Deleanu, Florin. “Dating with Procrustes: Early Pramāṇavāda Chronology Revisited.” Bulletin of the International Institute for Buddhist Studies 2 (2019): 11–47.

    Reflections on the principles used for establishing chronologies of Indian Buddhist thinkers, occasioned by a reconsideration of the dates of Dignāga. Deleanu hypothesizes that Dignāga lived between c. 430 and 500 (as opposed to Frauwallner’s assigned date of c. 480–540); he follows Franco’s rejection of Krasser’s arguments on the dating of Dharmakīrti and proposes that one might consider a date of 570–640 for the latter.

  • Eltschinger, Vincent. “Dharmakīrti.” In Brills Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 2, Lives. Edited by Jonathan A. Silk, 156–167. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2019.

    Well-documented encyclopedia article about Dharmakīrti’s life as depicted in Tibetan historiographies and about his works, including problematic attributions.

  • Franco, Eli. “Xuanzang’s Silence and Dharmakīrti’s Dates.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 56–57 (2015–2018): 117–142.

    Critical examination—and rejection—of Krasser’s individual arguments about Bhāviveka’s relationship to Dharmakīrti in Krasser 2012. A variety of questions regarding the dating of Indian philosophers from the sixth and seventh centuries in general are raised; no new dating proposal for Dharmakīrti is advanced.

  • Frauwallner, Erich. “Landmarks in the History of Indian Logic.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens 5 (1961): 125–148.

    A short paper aiming to determine the life-dates of Indian Buddhist logicians active between the fourth and eighth centuries on the basis of a set of specified methodological principles. Frauwallner infers Dharmakirti’s life-time of c. 600–660 on the basis of reports by the 7th-century Chinese pilgrims Xuanzang and Yijing, discarding the later Tibetan historiographies by Bu ston and Tāranātha, which he considers as generally distorting Indian tradition.

  • Frauwallner, Erich. “Die Reihenfolge und Entstehung der Werke Dharmakīrti’s.” In Erich Frauwallner: Kleine Schriften. Edited by Gerhard Oberhammer and Ernst Steinkellner, 677–689. Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1982.

    Besides clarifying the chronological sequence of Dharmakīrti’s works, this paper—originally published in 1954—also advances the hypothesis that the first chapter of the Pramāṇavārttika dealing with inference is based on an untransmitted earlier independent work on the logical reason. This chapter, conventionally designated Pramāṇavārttikasvavṛtti (“Autocommentary on the means of valid cognition”), is the only chapter that mixes verses and prose. Frauwallner also addresses the sequence of chapters in the Pramāṇavārttika, of which two different arrangements are historically attested.

  • Krasser, Helmut. “Bhāviveka, Dharmakīrti and Kumārila.” In Devadattīyam—Johannes Bronkhorst Felicitation Volume. Edited by François Voegeli, Vincent Eltschinger, Danielle Feller, Maria Piera Candotti, Bogdan Dianescu, and Malhar Kulkarni, 535–594. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2012.

    Substantial paper on the relationships between Dharmakīrti and the Madhyamaka philosopher Bhāviveka (b. c. 500–d. 570) as well as Bhāviveka and the Mīmāṃsā philosopher Kumārila; severe criticism of Frauwallner’s dating of Dharmakīrti. Krasser proposes to move Dharmakīrti’s period of activity—as well as that of Kumārila—to the middle of the sixth century, claiming that Bhāviveka, as well as the Yogācāra thinker Sthiramati (b. c. 510–d. 570), presupposed some of Dharmakīrti’s distinctive ideas, and that Bhāviveka also presupposed Kumārila.

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