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Transcript of DAVID JACKSON Dharmakirti

Dharmakiirti's refutation of theism

Dharmakiirti's refutation of theism

By Roger JacksonPhilosophy East and West36:4 Oct. 1986 p. 315-348

I. INTRODUCTION

Indian civilization, no less than that of the West,

is haunted by the concept of God, and Indian

philosophical writing, no less than the works of

Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, or Hume, has as one of its

important concerns the existence or nonexistence of

an omniscient, eternal, independent, benevolent being

who creates and/or designs the cosmos. Despite Lin

Yutang's description of India as a nation

"intoxicated with God,"(1) Indian skepticism about

such a being goes back very far indeed,(2) and

explicit arguments against theism find an important

place in the writings of Buddhism, Jainism, and

Miimaa.msaa (as they must have in the lost writings

of Caarvaaka) , while God's importance or even

existence for early Saa.mkhya, Nyaaya, and Vai`se.sika

is at best moot.(3) Indeed, the only Indian philosophical

systems that are explicitly theistic are Vedaanta,

Yoga, and later, Nyaaya-Vai`se.sika. It undoubtedly

is due to the overwhelming preference for Vedaanta

among modern exponents of Indian philosophy that

Indian tradition so often is presented through

theistically-shaded lenses, and it is not incorrect

to assert that, in general, Indian civilization has

become more theistic during the same period in which

the West has become less so. Still, this should not

blind us to the fact that as recently as five hundred

years ago thinkers like the Jaina Gu.naratna were

adducing sharp and original arguments against

theistic assertions, and that even today the

unanimity of Indian belief in God may not be as

thoroughgoing as most swamis and scholars would have

us believe.(4)

As might be expected, arguments for the existence or

nonexistence of the being variously called puru.sa,

brahman, paramaatman, or ii`svara, or by the name of

one or another sectarian deity, increased in

sophistication as methods of philosophical discussion

grew more complex and precise. Sometime around the

middle of the first millennium A.D. a philosophical

watershed was reached wherein the various Indian

schools arrived at least at a broad consensus on the

criteria for valid and invalid formal inferences,

anumaana, and proper and improper argumentative

modes, tarka. In principle, at least, this permitted

intersystemic debate on the basis of commonly

accepted "logical" canons, and thus prompted the hope

that arguments on fundamental philosophical issues

might indeed be capable of resolution. In general,

before the development of these canons, Indian

philosophical arguments that were not simply dogmatic

were analogical or dialectical in form; arguments

after the canons were developed still employed

illustrative analogies and dialectical dilemmas, but

within the much more carefully articulated framework

of what is sometimes called the Indian "syllogism."

Among those contributing greatly to the development

of generally acceptable

------------------------

Roger Jackson is an Assistant Professor of Religious

Studies at Fairfie[d University, Connecticut. This

paper was originally presented at the seventh

conference of the international Association of

Buddhist Studies, Bologna, Italy, July, 1985.

p. 316

logical canons was the seventh-century Buddhist

aacaarya Dharmakiirti, who developed the seminal

insights of his great predecessor, Dignaaga, into an

epistemological and logical system that itself drew

the attention of countless commentators (not to

mention opponents(5)) and has served as the basis of

epistemology and logic in the Tibetan Buddhist

tradition right up to the present. The majority of

Dharmakiirti's writings(6) are concerned with

epistemological and logical questions, but he was not

uninterested in matters of religious and metaphysical

doctrine, for the chapter titled "Pramaa.nasiddhi,"

or "Establishment of Authoritativeness, " in his

masterwork, the Pramaa.navaarttika, (7) is devoted

almost entirely to a rational justification of

Buddhist religious doctrines, such as the

authoritativeness of the Buddha, the reality of past

and future lives, and the validity of the Four Noble

Truths. In the course of demonstrating these

doctrines, Dharmakiirti attacks the positions of a

variety of non-Buddhist opponents, including the

Lokaayatas(=Caarvaakas), Saa.mkhyas, Nyaaya-Vai`se.sikas,

Miimaa.msakas, and Jainas. Although earlier Buddhist

writers had criticized non-Buddhist systems, and

Bhaavaviveka had subjected them to systematic

scrutiny nearly a century earlier in his

Tarkajvaalaa, Dharmakiirti was the first Buddhist to

criticize non-Buddhist doctrines with fully developed

methods of inference and argumentation at his

disposal.

Among the non-Buddhist doctrines criticized by

Dharmakiirti in the "Pramaa.nasiddhi" chapter of the

Pramaa.navaarttika was the assertion that an

omniscient, permanent, independent entity, II`svara,

is the creator of the cosmos. Although George

Chemparathy remarks that "the systematic and

thoroughgoing attack on the I`svara doctrine by

Dharmakiirti" gave a great impetus to the

theist-atheist controversy, (8) and Gopimohan

Bhattacharyya notes that the "time-honored

cosmological [sic] argument was for the first time

subjected to scathing criticism by Dharmakiirti, `the

central figure around whom all the creative minds in

India revolved', " (9) Dharmakiirti's arguments

themselves, pivotal as they may have been, have

received surprisingly little attention; most writers

on Buddhist atheism have focused either on the

arguments of such earlier sources as the Paali

Nikaayas, Naagaarjuna, A`svaghosa, and Vasubandhu, or

the later, extended discussions in `Saantarak.sita's

Tattvasa.mgraha and the Pa~njikaa upon it by

Kamala`siila. The earlier arguments are less

systematic than Dharmakiirti's, and the later ones

are largely based on the discussion of ii`svara in

the Pramaa.navaarttika, so it seems desirable to

examine these crucial arguments, for without an

understanding of them, our picture of the Indian

theist-atheist controversy will be incomplete. This

essay will sketch the pre-Dharmakiirti development of

theism, outline earlier Buddhist refutations of it,

contextualize and analyze Dharmakiirti's arguments in

some detail, note some of the directions taken in the

theist-atheist debate after Dharmakiirti, and

conclude by examining problems inherent in attempting

to "decide" the debate and compare it to similar

debates in the Western tradition.

p. 317

II. PHILOSOPHICAL THEISM BEFORE DHARMAKIIRTI

Indian speculation about the cosmos, of course, goes

back as far as the later sections of the.Rgveda,

where the first cause is said to be, for example,

vi`svakarman ("the all-maker"),(10) or puru.sa ("the

person") , (11) or prajaapati ("the lord of

creatures"), (12) or tadekam ("the one") .(13) The

divine power, or supreme puru.sa, first is referred

to as ii`svara ("the lord") in the Atharvaveda,(14)

while the Braa.hma.nas and AAra.nyakas continue Vedic

speculations regarding prajaapati and vi`svakarman

and introduce the concepts of brahman and

brahm