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DFG project pramāṇa

Erkenntnistheoretische Systeme in der klassischen indischen Philosophie: Prajñākaragupta (ca. 750-810) zur Anzahl der Erkenntnismittel (pramāṇa)

Coordination: Birgit Kellner


Buddhists of fifth to twelfth century India, writing on epistemology and logic, generally recognized two means by which a normal person can securely attain knowledge: by a direct perception of some real particular, or by an inference, which operates with ultimately unreal universals.

Whilst these two means have, individually, been extensively studied, there has not been any detailed inquiry either into the history of the arguments for this duality, or into the systematic motivation behind it.

We thus do not know for certain how this theory was created in the first place, how it was argued for, defended, and perhaps adapted throughout the more than six hundred years that Buddhist epistemology and logic thrived in India, or why it was upheld that there are these two, and only these two, reliable ways to knowledge.

In order to find some answers to these questions, this project studies a passage from a text written around 800 CE. This text, the Pramāṇavārttikālaṅkāra by Prajñākaragupta, presents itself as a commentary on one of this tradition's founding texts, the Pramāṇavārttika by Dharmakīrti (seventh century CE).

The passage considered in this project, the commentary on verses 53–84 of the Pramāṇavārttika's chapter on perception, explains and expands the arguments given by Dharmakīrti for why there are only two means of valid cognition; in doing so, it refutes alternative views and engages in discussions about how the two means are related. The project taps into this source to reconstruct the main positions held at Prajñākaragupta's time.

As is typical for this text, this passage goes far beyond the verses it is purportedly commenting on. It all but rewrites the theory proposed there, yet claims perfect coherence with it.

Since this text also exerted a very strong influence on later writers in this tradition, it is the ideal starting point for this project's inquiry into the internal dynamics and external circumstances driving and shaping the formation of a core theory of Buddhist epistemology.

Research associate: Patrick McAllister

Project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)



Birgit Kellner

Group members

Patrick McAllister