Dharmak¯ ırti’s exposition of pram¯na and pram¯naphala a. a.

and the sliding scale of analysis Birgit Kellner


The sliding scale of analysis

Several studies have recently brought into focus the copresence of conflicting theories about reality and its cognition within the Buddhist logico-epistemological tradition, a phenomenon that used to be discussed in terms of the relationship between the doctrinal systems of Sautr¯ntika and Yog¯c¯ra in a a a earlier times. In particular, George Dreyfus (Dreyfus, 1997), Sara McClintock (McClintock, 2003) and John Dunne (Dunne, 2004) have formed and elaborated the heuristic metaphor that Dign¯ga, Dharmak¯ and their followa ırti ers employ a sliding, or ascending, scale of analysis where theories that at first sight seem to be contradictory are in fact located on hierarchically arranged levels of discourse: more intuitive and less accurate low-level analyses are gradually replaced by less intuitive and more accurate higher-level accounts, like, for instance, the idea that external objects cause a perception that appears in their form is replaced by the notion that cognition is an entirely mind-internal phenomenon. While Dreyfus and McClintock deal with later representatives of the tradition in South Asia and Tibet, Dunne is concerned with the historical Dharmak¯ and presents the sliding scale in his study of the PV, which he analyses ırti ´a on the basis of Devendrabuddhi’s and S¯kyabuddhi’s commentaries. Whereas Dreyfus and McClintock place higher emphasis on epistemological factors in distinguishing the levels on the scale, Dunne introduces the scale to account for seeming conflicts between multiple ontologies. His altogether four different levels differ in terms of the type of entities that are considered as ultimately real. At the same time, they represent steps in a continuous process that leads from the first level all the way up to the fourth, and where each level involves


relegating some entities that were considered as ultimately real on the previous level to a merely conventional status (cf. handout). The movement along the scale manifests an underlying philosophical method, and may – so Dunne – be considered to exhibit soteriological dimensions. This movement proceeds with the help of a uniform strategy: a mereological strategy of argument, mereology being the part of philosophy which analyses the relationship between wholes and their parts or the individual parts within a whole. This mereological strategy according to Dunne manifests itself as a reductive analysis, in the course of which Dharmak¯ reduces a successively ırti higher number of entities to infinitesimal particles through a chain of “neithernor-arguments”. In other words, there is a transition from each level to the next, such that the levels are linked through what I am going to term “transition arguments”. When we look at Dunne’s scale, a minimal definition of a transition argument suggests itself along the following lines: a transition argument first argues that there are fundamental problems in the low-level theory which cannot be resolved without abandoning its fundamental principles, and in a second step replaces these principles by logically conflicting ones that form part of the higher-level theory. In this paper, I am going to discuss the relationship between levels 3 and 4, referred to as “external realism” and “epistemic idealism” by Dunne, and usually considered as characteristic analyses of the Sautr¯ntika and Vij˜anav¯da a n¯ a or Yog¯c¯ra schools or systems. In my discussion, I am going to mainly rely a a on arguments from Dharmak¯ ırti’s exposition of the means of valid cognition (pram¯na) and its result (pram¯naphala) in PV 3.301-366 and the largely a. a. 1 parallel section PVin 1.34-57. These arguments will be examined in connection with Dunne’s proposed scale, which, by contrast, is based on PV 3.194224, considered by Dunne as the most important section for the sliding scale throughout the PV. My presentation is mainly based on the Sanskrit text of the PVin, but the general transition can also be found in the largely parallel section in the PV. Before I begin, I would like to thank Ernst Steinkellner for generously providing me with his preliminary critical edition of PVin 1, which was prepared on the basis of Anne MacDonald’s transliteration of the three currently available Sanskrit manuscripts.



The transition from externalism to internalism in Dharmak¯ ırti’s exposition of the means of valid cognition (pram¯na) and a. its result (pram¯naphala) a.

On the textual surface, the section on means and result deals with what, in the case of perception, serves as the means of valid cognition, and what as its result. As is well-known from later sources, Dharmak¯ here just like Dign¯ga ırti a in PS(V) 1.8cd-10 advances the theory that means and result are non-different (anarth¯ntara) in that both are aspects of cognition, distinguished as analytical a concepts, but not in reality. In expounding means and result, Dharmak¯ pits two alternative theoırti ries of perception against each other that can be characterised as externalist and internalist respectively. The externalist theory assumes that some extramental, material object causes a perception that has its form. By contrast, the internalist theory assumes that perception, as well as all other cognitive activity, takes place solely within the mind, and that nothing else is to be experienced by cognition. While these my characterisations are functionally equivalent to what Dunne refers to as external realism and epistemic idealism, their definitions differ because they concentrate on those features which are of immediate relevance in the exposition of means and result, which places epistemological aspects of these two levels of analysis in the foreground. Dharmak¯ begins with an externalist account of means and result. The ırti means of valid cognition is required to differentiate valid cognition, its result, according to individual objects. In the case of perception, the means must be capable of explaining why a perception is one of something blue rather than of something yellow. The result (pram¯naphala) is said to be the understanding a. of the individual external object (arth¯dhigama). The means is nothing other a than the similarity of perception to its external object (arthas¯r¯pya),2 or, a u in other words, the fact that it has the form of the validly cognised object (meyar¯pat¯ ).3 After refuting other candidates for means of valid cognition, u a such as the sense-faculty or the sense-object-contact, Dharmak¯ undertakes ırti a critique of the externalist theory that leads him to abandon it, as well as its conception of means and result, and contains two main complexes of arguments. The first will subsequently be called the samanantarapratyaya-argument. Dharmak¯ raises an absurd consequence that follows from the externalist ırti 3

theory which assumes that perception arises from an external object and is similar to it.4 Assume a situation where two perceptions arise in immediate succession from the same type of external object, e.g. a blue patch. The first serves as the immediately preceding and homologous condition (samanantarapratyaya) of the second and is therefore its cause. The second perception has the same form as the first, i.e. blue. The first perception would therefore have to be considered the object of the second. This argument points out that there is at least one situation where the externalist must admit that something is an object which by his own standards is not; his definition turns out to be over-extensive. The second argument is actually a complex of arguments, designed to refute the similarity of cognition with the external object, primarily by pointing out incongruences between the many and subtle atoms that are held to cause the perception and the coarse singular object-form that appears in it. These arguments will subsequently be referred to as “arguments from incongruence”. The coarse form which appears in a perception (sth¯l¯k¯ra) does not exist in ua a each of the individual atoms that are held to cause it. Moreover, the coarse form enters perception as one. The many atoms can therefore not be said to appear in a coarse form in perception when they are gathered together (sa˜cita), for what has one form in perception cannot in external reality be n many (b¯hulya). Furthermore, the many atoms do not have such a coarse a 5 form. Neither is there one single coarse object of perception that appears as coarse, such as the Ny¯ya-Vai´esika’s whole (avayavin), which is refuted at a s . some length. To this extent, Dharmak¯ has provided arguments that identify problems ırti in the low-level theory which cannot be resolved without abandoning its fundamental principles. The next step in the transition argument, namely, replacing these principles with logically conflicting ones that form part of the higher-level theory, follows promptly: nothing else is to be experienced through cognition – apart from cognition itself. The defining characteristic of the external object (visayalaksana), meaning that it causes a perception with its form, has been . . . refuted. The remaining part of the section explains means and result within an internalist framework, and further specifies the internalist theory. Because there is no cognition of an external object, which had been proposed as the pram¯naphala by the externalist, self-awareness comes to be assumed as the rea. 4

sult.6 The object of valid cognition is then the form of the grasped (gr¯hy¯k¯ra), a a a whereas the means of valid cognition is the form of the grasper (gr¯hak¯k¯ra). a a a These two characteristics of cognition are beyond reproach only when their distinction is recognised as corresponding to the way they appear to beings plagued by error (i.e. ignorance), while cognition in reality is without the forms of knower and known.7 3 A sliding scale or no scale at all?

What would happen if we were to replace Dunne’s arguments for the transition from level 3 to 4, which I shall discuss shortly, with the transition argument proposed in the section on means and result? The heuristic value of the scale would be diminished because one could no longer claim that levels 3 and 4 are connected with mereological arguments that reduce entities to particles with the help of ontological neither-nor-arguments, for the simple reason that neither the samanantarapratyaya-argument nor the arguments from incongruence can be characterised in this way. But since this method is the single uniform criterion which links the individual levels and defines them as points on a scale, it then becomes questionable whether epistemic idealism can be meaningfully considered a further point along this scale at all. To maintain the scale as defined by Dunne, one would therefore have to demonstrate that the transition arguments proposed by Dunne are somehow more important for this particular transition than the arguments from the section on the means and result. Dunne identifies the fundamental error of external realism as the belief in the existence of extra-mental matter, and claims that this belief is eliminated through the realisation that “the subject/object-duality apparent in awareness is actually due to the influence of ignorance (avidy¯ ).” Because this duality a is erroneous, any belief that is based on it, such as the notion that extramental particles cause the objective appearance in perception, is erroneous as well.8 Two pages later, Dunne claims that the primary argument against the existence of extra-mental objects is the “inability to specify whether the image in perception is singular or multiple”.9 It is not clear to me how Dunne conceives of the relationship between these two arguments, nor is it clear to me how exactly he derives them from PV 3.194-224,10 but for the sake of discussion I shall try consider each of them as an independent transition argument in its 5

own right. What I have just quoted oscillates between an ontological and an epistemological reading of external realism’s erroneous belief: “extra-mental matter exists” or “extra-mental particles cause the objective appearance in perception”. I am inclined to believe that the ontological reading is due to the overall importance of ontology in the construction of Dunne’s scale, and due to the need to have the transition from level 3 to 4 take off precisely where the transition from level 2 to level 3 ended. However, apart from being difficult to reconcile with the epistemological focus of Dharmak¯ ırti’s arguments against externalism that I have just presented, the ontological reading also makes the two arguments sound rather unconvincing and raises the suspicion that something here is not quite right. How could the realisation that the subject/object-duality of cognition is due to ignorance eliminate the belief that extra-mental matter as such exists? Or, for that matter, how could this belief be eliminated provided that one realises that perceptual images are neither one nor many? In connection with an epistemological reading of the eliminated belief, both arguments gain plausibility, but this would again pose problems for the overall ontological focus of the sliding scale. Moreover, even if Dharmak¯ can actuırti ally be held to proclaim these arguments, it still remains questionable that, as transition arguments from external realism, they would be more suitable than the arguments from the section on means and result, and this is due to the role that the higher-level theory plays in them. Neither the samanantarapratyaya-argument nor the arguments from incongruence have premises which are particular to internalism, even though Dharmak¯ ırti’s knowledge that the internalist theory is available and superior may well have motivated him to undertake a critique of externalism in the first place, and may have influenced where he looks for points of criticism. In particular, it is conceivable that the samanantarapratyaya-argument is adduced because it anticipates features which are characteristic for an internalist theory of perception: what is an unwanted consequence for the externalist in some situations is a general feature of the internalist theory as such, provided that indeed all versions of internalist theories assume the samamantarapratyaya as a causal object of the following perception. Still, the internalist’s acceptance or non-acceptance of the samanantarapratyaya as the true object of perception is immaterial to this being an unwanted consequence for an externalist theory. Likewise, the principle that cognition cognises only what is mental is 6

immaterial both to the samanantarapratyaya-argument and to the arguments from incongruence. This is different in the two transition arguments that are proposed by Dunne: the erroneous character of the subject-object-duality is particular to epistemic idealism, and it is on the basis of this premise that Dunne claims the belief that extra-mental particles cause the objective appearance in perception is eliminated. I suspect that the same could be said for the neither-norargument concerning the singularity or plurality of perceptual images, even though I am not sure how to construe this as a refutation of external realism in the first place. In their potential function for transitions within a sliding scale, these arguments can best be described as a form of top-down criticism which uses as logical premises principles of a higher-level theory in order to point out problems in the lower-level theory. These can be contrasted with transition arguments, in which the acceptance of higher-level principles is involved at best as a motivating factor or guideline in the critique of the lower-level theory. To use yet another metaphor, using a transition argument, you climb up a ladder, whereas top-down criticism means that someone from above is trying to pull you up. To conclude, I have pointed out several problems of the sliding scale as it is proposed by John Dunne, tacitly assuming that the notion of a sliding scale of analysis is useful in general, and focusing on internal criticism of it in connection with the account that it gives of the transition from external realism to epistemic idealism. The first problem is Dunne’s ontological focus of the transition. It has been pointed out before that Dign¯ga’s and Dharmak¯ a ırti’s criticism of external reality is epistemological, by concentrating on the relationship of external reality to perception, unlike for instance Vasubandhu’s criticism which mainly points out problems within atomistic theory. Not only the arguments can be described as epistemological, but the very thesis which they claim to refute, namely that external objects cause perceptions that have their form. It also appears to me that the arguments Dunne uses for his transition from external realism to epistemic idealism cannot be derived from PV 3.194-224, but since my study of this passage is still at a preliminary stage, I have argued from the tentative assumption that they can. Even then, their examination in relationship to the transition argument from the section on means and result reveals that they are less adequate if the sliding scale is to 7

be built on transition arguments rather than on top-down criticism. While Dunne does not draw this distinction, his entire account of the scale as involving a movement of analysis is suggestive of a scale that rests on transition arguments. In any possible meaningful interpretation, I would argue, the sliding scale clearly does not mirror a process of discovery where the identification of problems in one theory naturally leads its proponents to formulating an alternative and better one; to a certain extent at least each transition is motivated by the knowledge that there is a next level. On this background, my distinction between transition arguments and top-down criticism, no doubt in need of further refinement, points to the necessity to examine the arguments which link the individual points along the scale in terms of how actually higher-level theories influence the criticism of lower-level ones. It can be expected that the character and degree of such influence undergoes variation in the course of time and manifests itself differently depending on the interests and perspectives of individual representatives of the tradition. One thus should be aware that relying on commentaries for a historical reconstruction of Dharmak¯ ırti’s argumentation is not without its dangers especially in this particular connection.



This reflects my new tentative verse-numbering. In the Sanskrit text, PVin 1.42b in Vetter’s edition of the Tibetan text turns out as prose, while PVin 1.42cd can be considered PVin 1.41cd. As a result, Vetter’s numbering from his PVin 1.43 onwards goes down by one. This new numbering is tentative mainly because, for metrical reasons, it requires a conjecture against all three manuscripts. For what I consider PVin 1.41cd, the manuscripts read t¯d¯tmy¯d arthasamvidah svasamvit phalam ucyate (the reading isyate for ucyate in ms a a a . . . . A is an interference of isyate in the preceding half-verse PVin 1.41ab). The third foot PVin . 1.41c would thus read t¯d¯tmy¯d arthasamvidah, which is non-standard in the Anustubh a a a . . .. metre and all its common extensions (vipul¯ ) – na-, bha-, ma- and ra-vipul¯ – because a a the seventh syllable is short; it should be long. The required length can be obtained by correcting arthasamvidah to arthasamvitteh. . . . . PVin(a) 2,3: na ceyam arthaghatan¯ ’rthas¯r¯py¯d anyato j˜¯nasya sambhavati. Cf.a. a u a na . a PV 3.305ab: arthena ghatayaty en¯m na hi muktv¯ ’rthar¯pat¯m | a. a u a .
3 2


PVin 1.35ab=PV 3.306ab: tasm¯t pramey¯dhigateh s¯dhanam meyar¯pat¯ | a a u a . a . For the reconstruction of this argument, I follow Tosaki, 1985:7. Cf. the handout for the possible interpretations of this last sentence. PVin 1.41ab=PV 3.332cd: tad¯ ’nyasamvido ’bh¯v¯t svasamvit phalam isyate | a a a . . .




PVin 1.39-40=PV3.330c-332b: avedyavedak¯k¯r¯ yath¯ bhr¯ntair nir¯ . yate | vibhaktaa a a a a ıks laksanagr¯hyagr¯hak¯k¯raviplav¯ || tath¯krtavyavastheyam ke´¯dij˜¯nabhedavat | yad¯ tad¯ a a a a a a . sa na a a . . . na sa˜codyagr¯hyagr¯hakalaksan¯ || n a a . .a


Dunne, 2004:61. Dunne, 2004:63.


In fact, I do not understand how Dunne extracts from PV 3.194-224 the argument that perceptual images are neither one nor many, and that therefore extra-mental matter does not exist/does not cause perceptions. The section does contain the claim that the duality of grasper and grasped is a product of ignorance, but the only consequence that seems to be drawn from this as far as objects are concerned is that, when differences within cognition are fundamentally erroneous, the difference between objects becomes erroneous as well because objects are established as different from each other on the basis of differences within cognition, cf. PV 3.214: tadbhed¯´rayin¯ ceyam bh¯v¯n¯m bhedasamsthitih | tadupaplavabh¯ve ca as a a a. a .ı . . . tes¯m bhedo ’py upaplavah || One could argue that this erroneous character somehow implica. . . itly extends to extra-mental matter as such, but would still have to take into consideration that Dharmak¯ does not include the refutation of external objects among the more or less ırti



explicit goals of proof of this section. ´a Since Dunne bases his reading of Dharmak¯ on Devendrabuddhi or S¯kyabuddhi, it ırti is conceivable that the arguments he attributes to Dharmak¯ are in this form articulated ırti in their commentaries, which I have so far not been able to confirm in my admittedly very preliminary study of this section. If so, one would have to be alert to the possibility that commentators draw arguments to their logical conclusion by exploiting possible implications, without necessarily following closely the goals and methods of proof in the root-text. It would then seem risky in principle to rely on commentaries for the construction of a scale of analysis that involves such transitions because commentators, being already convinced that the higher-level theory is preferable, might feel tempted to involve higher-level principles to a higher degree in the criticism of lower-level theories than the author of the root-text. My hunch is that precisely this might have happened in this case.

References Dreyfus, G. B. Recognizing Reality: Dharmak¯ ırti’s philosophy and its Tibetan interpretations. Albany, NY: SUNY Press 1997 Dunne, J. Foundations of Dharmak¯rti’s Philosophy. Somerville MA: Wisdom ı Publications 2004 McClintock, S. “The Role of the ’Given’ in the Classification of ´a S¯ntaraksita and Kamala´¯ as Sv¯tantrika-M¯dhyamikas.” Dreysıla a a . fus, G.; McClintock, S. (eds.), The Sv¯tantrika-Pr¯sangika distinca a ˙ tion: what difference does a difference make?, 125–171. Somerville, Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications 2003 Tosaki, H. Bukky¯ninshikiron no kenky¯ II . T¯ky¯ 1985 o u o o


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