Theory of Knowledge in Dignaga and Dharmakirti by S.R.Bhatt

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Transcript of Theory of Knowledge in Dignaga and Dharmakirti by S.R.Bhatt


[1] When Buddha Sakyamuni attained enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree more than two and a half thousand years ago , his achievement was not only the result of having reached the peak of meditative stabilization, of having brought great compassion to fruition, but also of clear analytic thought. ----- Thus, the study of logic and the nature of knowledge have been crucial to Buddhist tradition from the outset.

The Dalai Lama (Foreword to Buddhist Epistemology by Bhatt & Mehrotra)

[2] The varied and variegated Indian philosophical thought can be broadly classified into Atmavada (Substance ontology) and Anatmavada (No-substance ontology). The Buddhist thought advocated Anatmavada whereas the rest of the schools followed Atmavada. In order to expound and explicate anatmavada view the Buddhist thinkers developed their own system of epistemology, logic and language to suit their ontology and value theory. The ideas of anatta (Nosubstance), sunyata (essence-less-ness) ksana santana (existence series), the theory of pratityasamutpada (interdependent origination), and the goal of nirvana etc. required new modes of knowing and thinking. The Buddha acquired knowledge for his own enlightenment and also communicated knowledge for the enlightenment of others. The essential significance of enlightening knowledge in a

liberating philosophy of Buddhism need not be highlighted. However it should be pointed out that the Buddhist theory of knowledge is only a corollary of the Buddhist theory of reality and the Buddhist theory of reality is consciously purported to be directed towards realization of Nirvana for all living beings. So, the Buddhist epistemological thinkers discussed atmasamvit (knowledge for ones own sake) and also parasamvit (knowledge for others sake). Dignaga in the beginning of Nyayapravesa writes, Sadhanam dusanam caiva sabhasam parasamvide Pratyaksamanumanam ca sabhasam tvatmasamvide. i.e., Giving arguments in support of ones position and pointing out defects in the rivals position, along with their respective fallacies are essential for communicating knowledge to others, whereas for acquiring knowledge for ones sake perception and inference and their respective fallacies are essential.

[3] Right from the times of the Buddha there is insistence on proper knowledge based on right mental make up (samyak drsti). Though references are found in Pali literature to epistemological concepts and theories, particularly about consciousness and noetic process (cittavithi) for want of information it can only be said that systematic theorizing is available only in the Buddhist Sanskrit literature when the schools of Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Yogacara and Madhyamika came into existence.

[4] It will be interesting and relevant to discuss the noetic process described in the Pali literature which can be regarded as precursor to later Buddhist epistemology. Consciousness is the focal point of noetic process. Consciousness can be defined as everything taken together that has the characteristic of cognizing is to be known as aggregate of consciousness. The Abhidharma tradition puts exclusive emphasis on immediate experience rather than discursive reasoning. It insists that genuine experience is attainable only in a kusala (pure and undefiled) citta. That is why noetic process conducive to samadhi (meditation) leading to nirvana is put forth in

a moral setting. According to Abhidharma all empirical cognitions are conditioned by kama (volition) which can be described as sense-relatedness or intentionality. Intentionality has two facets--one pertaining to the object and the other to the mental state. In every cognitive process there is an object which is intended to be cognized and there is an intention in which an object is intended to be cognized. This may also be characterized as subjectivity.

[5] Consciousness in itself is self-enveloped and dormant. It is known as 'vithimukta'. When it gets activated it is known as vithicitta. The process of consciousness is technically known as Citta-vithi. The cognitive process begins when the cognitive senses receive the reflex of objects external or internal. The external objects are received through five outer senses known as panca-dvara and the internal objects are cognized through mind known as mano-dvara. For functioning of each type of course of cognition there is a distinct process and a specific object. The cognitive process which apprehends external objects is further classified under ten stages. They are as under:1. Bhvanga -- -It is a passive state of mind, going on smoothly on its own course, quite undisturbed, existing immediately prior to the appearance of any type of object. It is also called atita bhavanga. It is pre-reflective consciousness. Bhavanga also stands for the

consciousness which one has while in deep sleep which is more or less passive than active. Arising and perishing every moment it flows on like a stream not remaining the same for two consecutive moments.

Bhavanga is so called because it is an essential condition for continued existence. It may be called life-continuum. One always experiences bhavanga consciousness as long as it is uninterrupted by outside stimuli. 2. Bhavanga-calana - - It is vibrated state of mind. When an object enters in the range of a cognitive sense, it creates a simple vibration in the smooth flow of mind just like falling of a pebble on the calm surface of water of a tank. It is beginning of the disturbance in the passive state of consciousness. 3. Bhavanga-viccheda -- Immediately after bhavanga-calana the smooth It ceases to be a passive state and gets

flow of mind is arrested. disturbed and vibrated. 4. Pancadvaravajjana -

Avajjana means alertness or awareness. The

cognitive senses become alert to receive the impressions of an object. It is sense consciousness or sensory consciousness. It is turning of consciousness towards an object. 5. Indriya/Cakkhu vijnana If the object is a visible one the object The same is the case with other

causes a sensation in the eyes.

cognitive senses. It is sense operation upon the object. 6. Sampaticchana citta -- Immediately after the eye consciousness the

mind attends to the object as something existing outside. It is simply marking of an object and not determining its details. 'There is

something' is cognized but 'what it is' is not known. So it is receiving consciousness, a consciousness which receives sensations. It is the moment of reception of the object so seen. 7. Santirana citta - It is attending to the object and trying to determine its nature on the basis of past experience. It is a determining cognition on the basis of past recollection. But here there is not full determination. So it is also known as investigating consciousness. 8. Votthapana citta It denotes the sense of determination. The

comparison of the details with past experience enables the mind to determine it as such and such. Here discrimination is exercised and freewill may play its part. It is determining consciousness. 9. Javana citta It is actively involved consciousness. It is an attitude of

mind towards utilization or rejection of the object. In case the object thus determined is an agreeable one the mind utilizes it and if it is otherwise the mind rejects it. So it is psychologically important stage. Since an action is judged here as immoral or moral etc. Javana literally means running. It is so called because it runs consecutively for seven consciousness-moments. The mental states occurring in all these thought moments are similar but the potential force differs. 10. Tadalambana citta - - It literally means functioning on that object. It lasts for two consciousness moments. The entire cognitive process which takes place in an infinitesimal part of time ends with this.

[6] In this way seventeen consciousness-moments are involved in the cognition of an object. These seventeen moments complete full course of cognition of an external object. It is to be noted that both matter and consciousness are momentary but endurance of matter is seventeen times more than that of consciousness. In other words, one matter-movement equals seventeen consciousness-movements. When an object comes in the range of sense organ the course of cognition begins. By the time

consciousness undergoes changes for seventeen times through different stages, the object remains in the same stage. At the end of seventeen consciousness-moments the full course of cognition is complete and the duration of the object is also over. The object ceases to exist giving rise to its effect. When the object is fully cognized it is called 'very distinct object'. It may be that the object does not meet with all the ten stages. It may be that object comes into existence but does not attract cognitive process at the outset. So there can be abrupt beginning or abrupt end. In such a situation the cognition process is not complete and the object is not fully or properly cognized. Thus the object can be clear (vibhuta) or obscure (avibhuta).

[7] These ten stages of cognitive process arise in quick succession being regulated by the principle of pratitya samutapada. The preceding and

succeeding stages are marked by similarity as they are caused by the same object.

Thus, the total process of cognizing consists of ten stages from Bhavanga to Tadalambana. First three stages are preliminaries. They stand for the mental preparedness for receiving the impressions. The remaining seven are

concerning the awareness of the object and are known as cittotpada (arising consciousness of an object). Bhavanga is comparable to deep sleep. It is a lazy state of mind. After seventeenth moment there is bhavanga pata