Skip to main content



DHARMAKĪRTI (c. 600660), Buddhist philosopher of South Indian origin, pupil of Īśvarasena, and teacher at Nālānda. Dharmakīrti's thought brings the tradition of Buddhist epistemology and logic as founded by Dignāga (c. 480540) to its culmination and final accomplishment.

Dharmakīrti's philosophical work consists of seven treatises still extant either in the original Sanskrit or in Tibetan translation. Dharmakīrti's stated intention was to give an explanation of Dignāga's ideas, and tradition accepted his explanation as such. His works, however, surpassed those of the earlier philosopher to become the basis for the study of this tradition by later Indian and Tibetan Buddhists. His first major work, Pramāavārttika (Commentary on the means of valid cognition), is a verse text in four chapters. The first chapter, "On Inference," was written with a prose commentary, thus constituting his earliest work, and was only later joined with the other chapters, "Establishment of the Means of Valid Cognition," "On Perception," and "On Proof." The Pramāaviniścaya (Analytical determination of the means of valid cognition), contains chapters on perception, on inference, and on proof, and is the final formulation of Dharmakīrti's epistemological and logical thought in mixed verse and prose. For its clarity in structure, presentation, argument, and verbal expression, it is a masterpiece of Indian scholarly literature. In what is largely an excerpt of the latter work, the Nyāyabindu (A drop of logical argumentation), Dharmakīrti gives a succinct sūtra -like formulation of his epistemology.

The Hetubindu (A drop of logical reason) examines logical reason, negative cognition, and causality. The Vādanyāya (The rule for disputations), his last work, attempts to apply the new logical theory to the dialectical practice. Dharmakīrti refuted solipsism in his Santānāntarasiddhi (A proof of other mental continuities) and rejected the reality of relations in Sambandhaparīkā (Examination of Relation).

Most of Dharmakīrti's thought is devoted to epistemological and logical themes. In its context, this must be understood as an attempt to establish a philosophical foundation of meaningful everyday and Buddhist practice. For Dharmakīrti, valid cognitions can be established only with regard to the Buddha, whohimself a means of valid cognitioncan provide the motifs and goals of all human actions that are the frame of judgment necessary to differentiate the validity or invalidity of cognitions. At the same time, perception and inference, the two kinds of valid cognition, can be used to demonstrate that the Buddha is the only conceivable source from which we can derive such advice.

In the field of logic, Dharmakīrti overcomes the formal character of Dignāga's theory, in which only three forms or characteristics of logical reason are formulated as the necessary conditions of logical certainty, by giving an ontological explanation for such certainty. According to this explanation, concepts are related to each other only when they refer to the same real entity or to an entity caused by that referred to by the other concept. The necessary logical relation is thus based on a relation of real identity or of causality. Consequently, only such concepts may be used as logical reasons (hetu ) that are either "essential properties" (svabhāva ), "effect" (kārya ), that is, concepts referring to something as the effect of something else, or "non-perception of something perceivable" (dśyānupalabdhi ).

Dharmakīrti's theory of concepts (apoha ) explains a concept as the difference from other things that is common to individual entities. Lacking any principle of unity, absolutely different individual entities nonetheless cause the same judgments precisely on account of such experience of them that differs from experience of others. The resultant concept is nothing real, but by recourse to experience and practice there is nevertheless a relation between reality and the false realm of linguistic constructs of varying degrees of reliability. While perception is a direct valid cognition of what is real, inference is an indirect valid cognition, since it is conceptual by nature and must be gained under strict control by means of logical reason (hetu ). Concepts that may be used as logical reasons serve to infer other concepts as necessarily true or to remove or correct wrong concepts. One of the most influential results of this new logical theory is a new form of the inference of universal momentary destruction (kaikatva ) in which Dharmakīrti derives it from the concept of being (sattvānumāna ), thereby offering a new method for establishing the first of the four noble truths, "All is suffering."

See Also

Buddhist Philosophy.


Stcherbatsky, Theodore. Buddhist Logic (19301932). Reprint, New York, 1962. An introduction to Buddhist logic, including many references to Dharmakīrti.

Steinkellner, Ernst, trans. Dharmakīrti's Hetubindu, vol. 2. Vienna, 1967. German translation of the first Indian text on logic as such, including the important proof of momentariness as the essential character of being; also contains an elaborate discussion of causality and a theory of negative cognition.

Steinkellner, Ernst, trans. Dharmakīrti's Pramāaviniścaya, vol. 2. Kapitel: Svārthānumānam. Vienna, 1979. A German translation of the chapter on inference that constitutes the essence of Dharmakīrti's logical thought.

Vetter, Tilmann. Erkenntnisprobleme bei Dharmakīrti. Vienna, 1964. A study of Dharmakīrti's theories of cognition, concepts, perception, and being.

Vetter, Tilmann, trans. Dharmakīrti's Pramāaviniścaya, vol. l, Kapitel: Pratyakam. Vienna, 1966. Text and German translation of the chapter on perception, with an investigation of congition in general and the problem of extra-cognitional reality.

Vetter, Tilmann, trans. Die Lehre des Buddha in Dharmakīrti's Pramāavārttika. Vienna, 1984. German translation of a major part of the second chapter of the Pramāavārttika. Includes an introductory study of Dharmakīrti's presentation of the essence of Buddhist interpretation of reality and religiouspractice, providing the motifs, conditions, and purpose of epistemological theory.

New Sources

Jackson, Roger R. "Atheology and Buddhalogy in Dharmakirti's Pramanavarttika." Faith and Philosophy 16, no. 4 (1999): 472505.

Namai, Chisho Mamoru. "Dharmakirti on Compassion and Rebirth." Indo-Iranian Journal 44, no. 1 (2001): 8490.

Steinkellner, Ernst. "Kumarila, Isvarasena and Dharmakirti in Dialogue: A New Interpretation of Pramanavarttika I 33." Bauddhavidyasudhakarah (1997): 625646.

Ernst Steinkellner (1987)

Revised Bibliography

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Dharmakīrti." Encyclopedia of Religion. . 21 Sep. 2018 <>.

"Dharmakīrti." Encyclopedia of Religion. . (September 21, 2018).

"Dharmakīrti." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.