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DIGNĀGA (c. 480540 ce), founder of the Buddhist school of epistemology and logic in India. Born near Kāñcī in South India, Dignāga first belonged to the Vātsīputrīya school of Hīnayāna Buddhism, but unconvinced of the adequacy of its doctrine, he left the school. Some source materials record that he became a pupil of Vasubandhu, a renowned scholar of Buddhist philosophy, but his direct relationship to Vasubandhu may be questioned: a passage in one of Dignāga's works indicates an uncertainty concerning the authorship of a book traditionally attributed to Vasubandhu. Dignāga stayed for some time in Nālandā, then the center of Buddhist learning, and obtained mastery of the Vijñānavāda philosophy and of logic. His later years were spent in Orissa.

Dignāga composed many philosophical treatises. Most are no longer extant in Sanskrit, but a certain number of them are available in Tibetan or Chinese translation. The important ones are (1) Prajñāpāramitā-piārtha-sagraha, a summary of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra from the Yogācāra standpoint; (2) Traikālya-pa-rīkā, a treatise on the concept of time consisting of verses taken from Bharthari's Vākyapadīya with a slight but significant modification: it is intended to set forth the Yogācāra view that phenomenal existences are produced by the consciousness (vijñāna ); (3) Abhidharmakośa-marma-dīpa, an abridgment of Vasubandhu's book treating the dogmatics of the Hīnāyana schools; (4) Hastavāla-prakaraa, an examination of the Sautrāntika concepts of ultimate reality (paramārtha-sat ) and empirical reality (savti-sat ); (5) *Upādāya-prajñapti-prakaraa, a clear explanation of the Sautrāntika concept of empirical reality, arguing at the conclusion from the Yogācāra viewpoint that empirical reality is a product of the consciousness; (6) Ālambana-parīkā, an examination of the object of cognition; (7) Hetucakraamaru; (8) Nyāyamukha; (9) Hetumukha (not extant except for a few fragments); and (10) Pramāa-samuccaya. These last four works treat logic and epistemology.

Dignāga was a proponent of the Yogācāra doctrine insofar as he maintained that phenomenal existence was fabricated by the consciousness. However, the notion of the ālaya-vijñāna ("receptacle consciousness"), a central Yogācāra doctrine, is not mentioned in any of his works. He belonged to that school of the Yogācāras that did not recognize the ālaya-vijñāna and the "I-consciousness" (manas ) separately from the six kinds of ordinary sense consciousness: visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and discriminative. In some of his works he evinces an interest in Sautrāntika doctrine, and in fact, Dignāga's epistemological theories as expounded in the Pramāasamuccaya were made acceptable for both the Sautrāntikas and the Yogācāras.

Among the treatises concerning the Yogācāra philosophy, the Ālambana-parīkā is most important. In this work Dignāga repudiates the realists by arguing that a cognition cannot take for its object a thing in the external world, whether it is an individual atom or an aggregate of atoms. His discussions are similar to those presented by Vasubandhu in his Viśatikā-vijñaptimā-tratāsiddhi. However, the originality of Dignāga lies in his insistence that an object of cognition (ālambana ) must fulfill two necessary conditions: first, the object must be the cause (kāraa ) of a cognition, and second, it must possess the same form (ākāra ) as that which appears in the cognition. To satisfy these two conditions the object must be a real entity (dravya-sat ) and possess a gross form (sthūlākāra ). With these two conditions in view Dignāga examined and rejected the realist theories and drew the conclusion that the object of cognition is nothing other than the form of an object that appears in the cognition.

Dignāga's major contribution in the field of logic is the invention of the "wheel of reasons" (hetucakra ), which shows nine possible relations between a logical reason (hetu ) and what is to be proven (sādhya ), and enables one to distinguish a valid reason from invalid ones. The hetucakra was first presented in the Hetucakraamaru, and later incorporated in the Nyāyamukha, a work treating the dialectic on the model of Vasubandhu's Vādavidhi, and in the Pramāasamuccaya, a systematic exposition of the theory of knowledge.

The Pramāasamuccaya is the most important of Dignāga's works, for it is the synthesis of the doctrines expounded by him in different treatises. It comprises six chapters focusing on, respectively, (1) perception (pratyaka ), (2) inference svārthānumāna ), (3) syllogism (parārthānumāna ), (4) proper and improper examples in syllogism (dānta-dāntābhāsa ), (5) "differentiation from others" (anyāpoha ) as the meaning of a word, and (6) futile rejoinder (jāti ). In the first chapter, Dignāga makes a radical distinction between the two means of cognition, namely, perception, which apprehends the particular (svalakaa ) with no conceptual construction (kalpanā ), and inference, which apprehends the universal (sāmānyalakaa ) produced through conceptual construction. The doctrines that invited attack from opponents, such as that of the identity between the means (pramāa ) and the result (pramāaphala ) of cognition and that of "self-awareness" (svasavitti ) of cognition, are advocated in this chapter. Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6 deal with logical problems. In these chapters Dignāga discusses in full detail such topics as the distinction between inference for oneself (svārthānumāna ) and inference for others (parārthānumāna ), the three characteristics (trirūpa ) of an inferential mark (liga ), the object of inference (anumeya ), the "wheel of reasons" (hetucakra ), and the concomitance in agreement (anavaya ) and in difference (vyatireka ) between inferential mark and example, and establishes the system of three-membered syllogism. The fifth chapter is devoted to the elucidation of the apoha doctrine, that is, the doctrine that the function of a word consists in the "differentiation (of an object) from other things" (anyāpoha ) and not in the direct reference to a real entity. This doctrine also aroused controversy among the scholars of the different philosophical schools.

Dignāga had a great influence on the scholars of both Brahmanic and Buddhist schools. Uddyotakara (c. sixth century) of the Nyāya school, Kumārila Bhaa (c. seventh century) of the Mīmāsā school, and Mallavādin (c. sixth century) of the Jain school made vehement attacks on his doctrines as presented in the Pramāasamuccaya. Praśastapāda (c. sixth century), a Vaiśeika philosopher, was much indebted to Dignāga for the formulation of his theory of inference. Among Buddhist scholars, Dharmakīrti (c. 600660) wrote an elaborate commentary on the Pramāasamuccaya, the Pramāavārttika, in which he fully developed the ideas formulated by Dignāga. Soon this work took the place of the Pramāasamuccaya in academic circles, and was studied both by Buddhists and by members of rival schools.

See Also

Dharmakīrti; Indian Philosophies; Vasubandhu; Yogācāra.


Frauwallner, Erich. "Dignāga, sein Werk und seine Entwicklung." Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens 3 (1959): 83164. On the basis of the careful examination of Dignāga's works, the author proposes a chronological order for them and sketches the development of Dignāga's thought. The Sanskrit or Tibetan texts of some short treatises are appended.

Hattori Masaaki, trans. Dignāga, On Perception, Being the Pratyaksapariccheda of Dignāga's Pramāasamuccaya. Cambridge, Mass., 1968. An annotated English translation of chapter 1 of the Pramāasamuccaya, based on the Sanskrit fragments and the Tibetan versions. In the annotation references are made to the philosophical arguments of the rival schools and Dignāga's followers. Transliterated texts of two Tibetan versions are printed on facing pages.

Kitagawa Hidenori. Indo koten ronrigaku no kenkyū: Jinna no taikei. Tokyo, 1965. A lucid exposition of Dignāga's system of logic (part 1) and a Japanese translation of the main portions of the Pramāasamuccaya, chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6, with explanations based on Jinendrabuddhi's commentary (part 2). Appendix A consists of an annotated English translation of Dharmakīrti's Satānāntarasiddhi, and an abridged English translation of Dignāga's Ch'ü yin chia she lun (*Upādā-yaprajñapti-prakaraa ). Appendix B presents two Tibetan texts of the Pramāasamuccaya.

New Sources

Franco, Eli. "Did Dignaga Accept Four Types of Perception?" Journal of Indian Philosophy 21 (1993): 295299.

Ho, Chien-Hsing. "How Not to Avoid Speaking: A Free Exposition of Dignaga's Apoha Doctrine." Journal of Indian Philosophy 24 (1996): 541562.

Robbins, Robert. "A Reexamination of Dignaga's Concept of Self Awareness." In Contacts Between Cultures, edited by A. Harrak, pp. 242248. Lewiston, N.Y., 1992.

Tillemans, Tom J. F. "Pre-Dharmakirti Commentators on Dignaga's Definition of a Thesis (paksalaksana)." Buddhist Forum (1994): 295305.

Tuske, Joerg. "Dinnaga and the Raven Paradox." Journal of Indian Philosophy 26 (1998): 387403.

Hattori Masaaki (1987)

Revised Bibliography