- Buddhist Epistemology: the Number of Pramaa.nas
- Prof. Kewal Krishan Mittal
- Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi
- © Copyright retained by the author
It hardly needs to be stated that the question of Pramaa.na, i. e. the
source and proof of knowledge-in all its four aspects of Number (Sa"nkhyaa), Nature
(Svaruupa), Object (Arth or Vi.saya) and the Result (phala); constitutes the heart and
soul of Epistemology as we have it in various systems of Indian philosophy. I intend
drawing through this short paper, the attention of the scholars to the question of the
number of Pramaa.nas as pertains to the Buddhist Epistemology. While doing so I am fully
conscious of the first reaction, they may well evince. It is likely to be said, "What
is there in this question ? It is already settled. The Buddhist accept two Pramaa.nas Pratyak.sa
(perception) and Anumaana (inference) and the fact is testified not only by the modern
historians of Indian Philosophy but also by such well-known authors of compendia on
Indian Thought as Maadhavaacaarya and Haribhadra Suuri."
I dare challenge the view, throwing thus overboard the heavy burden of
tradition, emboldened by an oft-quoted advice of the Buddha, as we find it recorded in
A"nguttara-Nikaaya. "Believe nothing", theTathaagata is attributed to have
said, "because a so-called wise man said it. Believe nothing because the belief is
generally held. Believe nothing because it is written in ancient books. Believe nothing
because it is said to be of a divine origin. Believe nothing because someone else believes
it. But believe only what you yourself judge to be true."
Contrary to the general belief, what I judge to be true is that
Buddhist Epistemology, in general, does not accept Anumaana (Inference) as an
independent source and proof of knowledge and the only school of Buddhist Philosophy that
seems to do so fails to show it as such and succeeds merely in depicting Anumaana to be an
instrument dealing with connected, directed and reflective, but abstract thought, at best.
I, for one, am not able to understand as to why should not we check our
tendency to lump together schools of thought that differ widely. Covered, as they are, by
the general name of Buddhist Philosophy, it is alright for us, to seek in them the common
and essential. But, in the process, we must not gloss over the important differences and
distinctions. Because, if we do so, we are likely to confuse issues. To me, it seems an
all the more unpardonable a mistake when knowing fully well the various distinctions and
differences among various schools of thought one attributes something to the totality of
them what may legitimately or illegitimately belong to only one of them.
To my mind, Maadhavaacaarya, as also all those who seem to follow him
in this, appears to commit precisely this serious mistake. For, he is not only aware of
the division of Buddhist Philosophy into four important points of departure with the names
Vaibhaa.sika, etc. but also takes note of their epistemological differences.
Further, he does indicate very clearly that only one of the schools, namely, the
Sautraantika alone could, if at all, accept 'Anumaana as an additional Pramaa.na to
Pratyak.sa to gain knowledge of the external objects, in particular, and that too by
implication as his actual words are: "According to the Sautraantikas the external
objects are not graspable by Pratyak.sa (Sautraantikena pratyak.sagraahyortho na
bahirmata.h)". In the light of this, one is left wondering as to what makes
Maadhavaacaarya attribute the view to the Buddhists, in general, that they accept two
It is true, the Sautraantika school is distinguished from the.
Vaibhaa.sika in being the upholder of Baahyaanumeyavaada as against the
Baahyapratyak.savaada view of the latter. But that is all that we have of the Sautraantika
position. I am unaware if there is any detailed treatment of Anumaana in all its (already
mentioned) aspects by any thinker claiming to be a Sautraantika. Scholars are yet not sure
to which of the four well-known schools of Buddhism, namely, Vaibhaa.sika, Sautraantika,
Yogaacaara and Maadhyamika do Dharmakiirti, the celebrated author of the well-known
epistemological treatise 'Nyaayabindu' and Dharmottara, the accredited commentator of the
work belong .
May be, they, along with Di"nnaaga, the author of such important
works on Buddhist Epistemology as Pramaa.nasamuccaya, Nyaayaprave'sa, and lambanapariik.sa, etc. subscribe to a school independent
of all the four. Their school is known, roughly, by the name of the school of Buddhist
logic. It is to this school that 'Saantarak.sita, the author of Tattvasa"ngraha and
Kamala'siila, the commentator of the work also seem to belong. Despite having a common
bond, pressed by their metaphysical considerations, the great logicians, seem to pull in
different directions. If Di"nnaaga is keen to take a neutral stand and wants his
logic to be an instrument fit for the use of both Realists and Idealists and is ready to
drop the character 'non-illusiveness (abhraantam)' from his definition of pratyak.sa to
that effect , then 'Saantarak.sita and Kamala'siila do lean towards the Yogaacaara
position and Dharmakiirti and Dharmottara towards a position somewhat between the
Sautraantika and the Vaibhaa.sika . T.R.V. Murti's remark seems to be apt in this
context when he observes, "there is no such a thing as a neutral logic which every
philosopher accepts or has to accept ".
No doubt, they (the Buddhist Logicians) all, apparently accept both
Pratyak.sa and Anumaana as Pramaa.nas. But, somehow, caught in the web of their own
reasoning, guided or misguided by the consequences of accepting a certain definition of
Pratyak.sa (Pratyak.sa"m Kalpanaapo¯ ham), they
find it extremely difficult to maintain even Savikalpa pratyak.sa (determinate Perception)
to be an instrument of knowledge what to say of the Anumaana "which is" in the
words of' Satkari Mookerjee, "invariably associated with ideal constructions
It is hard for me to agree with Mookerjee when he suggests, that
Di"nnaaga's omission to put pratyk.sa under the rubric of "valid
knowledge"(Samyagj~naana) was a trifling matter unduly made capital of by Uddyotkara
 and so was the fact of not caring, to supply the word J~naana in his definition of
Pratyak.sa on the part of 'Saantarak.sita . For, the explanation of Kamalasiila on
'Saantarak.sita's behalf and declaring not only Pratyak.sa but also Anumaana to be 'valid
knowledge'-dvividha"m Samyagj~naanam  and Pratyak.samanumaana~nca on the part of
Dharmakiirti  by way of amending the view of Di"nnaaga are of little avail when,
despite Dharmottara's clever logical tight-rope-walking the School of Buddhist Logicians
is unable to come out of Logical difficulties of its own making.
The significance of Di"nnaaga's omission and 'Saantarak.sita's
lapse, I am sure, could not have been lost to Mookerjee and he should not have ridiculed
the Brahmanical critics on the point had it been kept by him in his mind that nirvikalpa
pratyak.sa-which alone is revalatory of knowledge-was of little practical use and
Savikalpa was invalid because of Vikalpa. More so, when he is not only aware of the
situation but also takes note of it elsewhere in his brilliant work on Buddhist Philosophy
. "Unless and until it is determined" observes he about nirvikalpa
pratyak.sa "as such the experience is as good as non-existent (Asatkalpa), because it
can not lead to any activity and so there is no acquisition of anything". Despite
referring to a distinction drawn by Dharmottara between Vikalpa (reflective thought) that
arises in the trail of perception and generated under its influence (Pratyak.sabalotpanna)
and the one that represents pure imagination without any touch with external reality and
mentioning the same to be of vital importance according to him (Dharmottara). Mookerjee
could not avoid the inescapable conclusion about Savikalpa Pratyak.sa as he states,
"the contention that perceptual knowledge together with Vikalpa should be held as
valid testimony therefore falls to the ground"'therefore' in the statement refers
to his argument a part of which runs thus, "the purely subjective character of this
reflective process, which is necessary for the interpretation of Perception, does not in
any way detract from or add to the evidentiary value of perceptual knowledge."
Dharmottara is blowing hot and cold when he asserts that there is a
distinction of vital importance between two varieties of Vikalpa and also insists at the
same time that 'both the varieties are equally unreliable and invalid by their very
constitution' . This alone is enough to reach the conclusion drawn by Mookerjee in a
somewhat roundabout manner.
Summing up, I may say that as far as I am concerned I do not think it
can be validly affirmed that the Buddhists accept Anumaana as a source and proof of
knowledge. This, however, does not mean that the way Anumaana has been conceived by the
Buddhists has no utility of its own. Anumaana, understood the Buddhists way has immense
value as an instrument of purely formal logic.
1. Cf. Nyaayabindu '.Tikaa (Bibliotheca Indica edition) p. 7;
Prakara.napa~ncaka p. 38; Pariik.saamukhasuutra .Tikaa 1-as quoted and
referred to by T. R. V. Murti, the Central Philosophy of Buddhism, p. 151, fn. 2.
2. See, e.g. S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Vol.1, pp. 462-469;
M. Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy, p. 188 ff;
Chandradhara Sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, pp131-2;
Sinha, J.N., A History of Indian Philosophy, vol, II, p. 414 ff.
3. Sarvadar'sanasa"ngraha, Ch. II, verse 36 (edited by V. S.
Sharma Rishi), p. 102.
4. Sa¯ ddar'sanasamuccaya, verse 9.
5. The same as supra note 3 (2nd line of the verse)
6. Ibid verses 37, 38, pp. 102-3.
7. Ibid verse 37, second line.
8, See Introduction (In Hindi) by one Chandrashekhar Shastri to the
Kashi Sanskrit Series (No. '22) edition of the Nyaayabindu.
9. Cf. Th. Stcherbatsky, Buddhist Logic, Volume 1, pp. 155 ff.
11. T. R. V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, p. 152.
12. See, The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux (Calcutta. 1935), p.
13. Ibid p. 274 (See fn. 2 for Uddyokara's criticism).
15. Tattvasa"ngraha Pa~njikaa (Gaikwad's Oriental Series edition).
16. Nyaayabindu (supra note 8), pp. 7, 8.
17. Op, cit. (Supra note 12), pp. 343-45.
18. Ibid p. 343.
19. Ibid p. 344,
21. Ibid p. 343.