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Walking Along the Paths of Buddhist Epistemology

Walking Along the Paths of Buddhist Epistemology
Item Code: IDK207
Author: Madhumita Chattopadhyay
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 812460441X
Pages: 366
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0" X 6.0"
weight of the book: 655 gms

From the Jacket

The monograph highlights the philosophical arguments offered by Buddhist thinkers on different aspects of knowledge. Various aspects of Buddhist epistemology right from the basic question of what the Buddhists mean by knowledge, the varieties of knowledge according to their belief ad their explanations of the validity of knowledge are examined.

A painstaking work of Prof. Madhumita Chattopadhyay, this study deals with different epistemological topics like the nature of knowledge validity of knowledge, knowledge of knowledge, perception, erroneous perception, inference and its related issues like ascertainment of vyapti, antarvyapati, prasanganuman and fallacies of inference. The author has referred to many primary sources which include different Sanskrit texts as well as the latest secondary literature available on these topics and discusses the important role of concept of absence and the theory of apoha or "negative nominalism" as a substitute for universals I Buddhist metaphysics. An attempt is made to explore whether solutions to modern epistemological problems as found in the Western tradition can be provided from the Buddhist perspective in order to show that Buddhist epistemology has a relevant role to play I the area of epistemology itself.


About the Author

Madhumita Chattopadhyay is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University from where she completed her PhD on Liar Paradox. Dr. Chattopadhyay was a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla in 1999. She visited Japan with Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Fellowship in 2002. She taught at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan USA under the Fulbright Visiting Lecturer Scheme in 2004. She has also visited Budapest, Hungary in 2007 under the Indo-Hungarian Educational Exchange Program.

Her areas of interest are Philosophical logic, Buddhist philosophy, Indian ethics and Comparative Religion. She has authored two books – What to do with the Liar and Ratnakirti on Apoha. She has co-edited two other books – Ethics: an Anthology and Siksaksetre Paraparik Samparka (in Bengali). She has also published numerous scholarly articles in reputed journals.


The book walking along the Path of Buddhist Epistemology is the result of a project undertaken by the author to make the basic doctrines of Buddhist epistemology available to students who are interested in Buddhist studies but who do not have sufficient knowledge of Sanskrit language to go through the original texts themselves. The idea of writing a book on this topic was the thought of my teacher Prof. Arindam Chakraborty of the Department of Philosophy, Hawaii University, USA when he got the information that the author was going to offer a course on Buddhist epistemology to students of the Graduate level at Western Michigan University, USA, as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in the Fall Semester 2004. The students at the Graduate level were totally novices in the area of Buddhist epistemology. For them, Buddhism was a philosophy which deals with transcendental matters like nirvana, sunya, etc. and had nothing to do with epistemology or logic which is concerned more with empirical/worldly subjects. So in each class I had to face lots of questions regarding the relevance of Buddhist studies to empirical issues – how Buddhism tires to deal with the ordinary ways of knowing tat this is a table, this is a substance, etc. So I had a twofold task, answering to the queries of my students and showing that Buddhist epistemology has relevance to the modern day epistemological discussions. This is the background story of this book.

I am really indebted to Prof. Arindam Chakrabory not only for his inspiration but also for giving me time to discuss philosophical issues with him. Since my student life I felt that whenever I was stumbled by any philosophical problem, he was the only person who, with his profound knowledge of both Western and Indian philosophy, could help me most by giving suggestions or referring to texts where I could find answers to those problems. Words are not sufficient to express my gratitude to him.

I would be failing in my duty if I do not mention the name of Prof. Shoryu Katsura, ex-Professors, Department of Indian Philosophy, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan who opened before me a new way of dealing with different Buddhist texts like the Pramanavarttika along with its commentaries. I am really thankful to him for his guidance and teaching. Along with Prof. S. Katsura, I want to mention the contributions of my Japanese friends, especially, Y. Honda, Watanabe, Yoshie Kobayashie and Prof. H. Ogawa, who not only made our stay in Japan very comfortable, but still now help me a lot by providing books and articles which are not easily available in Calcutta. I want to thank them all for their kind help. I also want to mention the name of Prof. Time light, Department of Religious Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, USA, who in spite of his age and busy schedule used to regularly attend my classes at WMU, and his active participation in the class enabled me to think to lot on the subject. Thanks are due specially to him and also to all my students who made my class a lively one.

It would be wrong on my part if I forget to mention the contributions of my teachers, colleagues, friends and student sat Calcutta who have helped me a lot in the form of giving me inspiration and encouraging me to complete the work in a short period. In this context I want to pay my homage to the departed sol of the Pandit Srimohan Tarkavedantatirtha who first opened the doors of the wonderful world of Indian philosophy before me by teaching me the kernels of Vedanta, Nyaya and Buddhist schools of thought.

Among my wellwishers I first want to thank Prof. Sekhar Ghosh of University of Burdwan who always provides support to me like my guardian. This time he voluntarily took upon himself the task of giving my English some polish wherever necessary. I this context I want to mention the names of Prof. Sandhya Basu, of Rabindra Bharati University and Prof. Rita Gupta of Viswa Bharati University, who though not my direct teachers always treat me as their student and spread their hands of help and co-operation to me whenever needed. Prof. Sandhya Basu being an expert in the area of Western epistemology, kindly had gone through the concluding chapter of the book and it is out of her suggestions that some changes have been made for its betterment. Prof. Rita Gupta, an expert in the area of Buddhist philosophy went through the entire manuscript and suggested appropriate changes for its improvement. I have tried to incorporate their suggestions as far as possible. I express my respect and gratitude to both these teachers. I want to pay respect to another teacher of mine, Professors Prabal Kumar Sen who with his encyclopaedic knowledge on Indian philosophy would often quote slokas from different texts some of which I tried to add in my books in the relevant context. Dr. Prayas Sarker and Prof. Ratna Datta Sharma, of the Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University had voluntarily taken the task of going through some chapters of this book and gave their valued opinions. I am thankful to them for their observations. Finally I must mention the contributions of my students, both at the P.G. and M. Phil levels at Jadavpur University with whom I shared some of my thoughts on Buddhism and waited for their observations. I wish them success in life.

Shri Susheel Mittal of D.K. Printworld has undertaken the entire responsibility of getting of the book published. Mere words of thanks are not sufficient for him. I wish him a healthy and prosperous life.

Last but not the least I must mention the contributions of my family members, especially my husband, my daughter Mriduchhanda and her nephew Swarnendu who had shown patience at moments when I was engaged in my studies. They deserve love and best wishes from me. My parents are no more with me in their gross physical body, but they would have been the happiest persons to see the book published. I offer my pranamas to them and seek their blessings.


It has been the task of the human race from the dawn of civilization to attain knowledge of entities in the universe, which they did not know. But once the direction of this investigation is changed from the outer world to itself, i.e. towards knowledge itself, several problems crop up. Though knowledge seems to be quite obvious, quite natural phenomenon, a deep thinking into this "obvious" matter reveals its really problematic character. In this respect philosophers of both the Western tradition and the Indian tradition share the same experience. Our concern, here, in this monograph is to present the discussion made by one particular school of Classical Indian philosophy, namely Buddhism, specially the Sautrantika- Yogacara school of Buddhism, regarding knowledge.

The English term "knowledge" has many equivalents in Indian languages: scholars mention more than seventy Sanskrit words. We feel almost lost. But the word which is most frequently used seems to be jnana (nana in Pall). At the outset we must state that the Sanskrit term jnana, though philologically cognate with the English word "knowledge" through its similarity with the Greek gnosis, has a very different meaning in Indian philosophy. The sense in which the term jnana is used is in one sense wider and in another sense narrower than the sense in which the term "knowledge" is used in Western philosophy. It is wider because jnana is used to denote not only true but also false cognitions, doubt, belief, assumption, and also the usual perception, introspection; it denotes non-propositional states like sensing (anubhava). It is narrower in the sense that jnana is used only in the episodic sense while "knowledge" is used in Western philosophy both in the dispositional as well as in episodic senses.

Since jnana can be true (yathartha) as well as false (ayathartha) there may be a suggestion that if jnana is qualified by yathartha, it can be treated as equivalent to knowledge, as knowledge is always true. In reply it would be said that this suggestion is not acceptable, as knowledge is not merely true belief, but justified true belief, so, yathartha jnana or samyag jnana or pramana as the Buddhists hold them, will be equivalent to knowledge if it also possesses or contains the feature of justification. To put it distinctively, is there any notion of justification in addition to truth found in the notion of samyag jnana or pramana so that it can be regarded as equivalent to knowledge in the sense of justified true belief? In the Western tradition the "justification" aspect has been interpreted differently in the internalist and the externalist tradition. For the internalist to know that P one must be able to give one's justification for believing that p, while the externalist will require that one be in a situation that gives one justification for the belief that Pi one need not be able to cite the reasons that provide such justification. In the background of this debate between internalism and externalism, we can say that the Buddhist philosophers were externalists in orientation, since they tried to account for the occurrence of cognition not in terms of any justification in the mind of the individual, but in terms of the success of the activity led by that knowledge. On a hot summer day when I am extremely thirsty, no assurance in my mind of the object in front of me that it is pure drinking water will quench my thirst. It is the actual capacity of the object to quench my thirst and give me satisfaction at that moment of crisis, that will convince me that I really know the object as water and no one can challenge me in this regard. Thus for the Buddhist, success of telic function of the object is the ultimate determinant for something's being judged as "known".

Now let us consider a situation. Suppose on a hot summer afternoon after a hard day's work, I happened to be passing through a shopping mall. Suddenly I saw through the window of the juice parlour a glass full of pineapple juice well decorated with ice and cherry, which at once increased my thirst. Wishing to quench my thirst I went to the shop, ordered for that juice, got it and I was satisfied. So here the telic function of the object is achieved. But can I claim that I knew it was a glass of pineapple juice? Certainly, not For, the object by which I was guided to action and the object which served the telic function are not the same. The object by which I was guided to have the drink was actually an iconic model of the glass made of wax while the object which satisfied me by quenching my thirst was the glass filled with actual pineapple juice. Certainly the glass made of wax and the glass filled with fruit juice are not the same. No one will claim that success of the telic function of an object is the only determinant of jnana. What else is then required?

  Preface v
  Introduction 1
1. Knowledge – What it is? 9
2. Knowledge – How it is Apprehended? 37
3. Validity – How it is Apprehended? 57
  Devendrabuddhi 67
  Kamalasila 69
  Manorathanandi 69
4. Knowledge – Its Different Varieties 75
5. Perception – Its Nature 79
6. Varieties of Perception 95
  Sense – Perception 96
  Mental Perception 98
  Self-cognition 103
  Yogic Apprehension 108
7. Erroneous Perception 113
8. Inference – Its Nature 127
  Controversy Between the Nyaya and the Buddhist on Inference 131
  Classification of Inferences 137
9. The Threefold Characterization of the Probans 147
10. Classification of the Probans 159
  The Probans as Effect 159
  Probans as Essence 164
  Probans as Non-Apprehension 167
11. Nature of Vyapti 179
12. Ascertainment of Vyapti 189
13. Antarvyapti – A Buddhist Perspective 201
14. Sadhanabhasa – Fallacies of Inference 213
  Paksabhasa 220
  Hetvabhasa 225
  Asiddha 225
  Anaikantika 230
  Viruddha 234
  Drstantabhasa 237
  Anvaya 237
  Vyatireka 238
  Viparitanvaya 238
  Vipartiavyatireka 238
  Ananvaya 238
  Avyatireka 239
15. Prasanganumana in the light of the Buddhist 259
16. Absence – How it is know? 277
17. Testimony – A Separate Pramana 291
  Conclusion 311
  Bibliography 335
  Index 345

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