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He was born into a Brahmin family in Simhavakta (near Kanchi Kanchipuram), and very little is known of his early years, except that he took as his spiritual preceptor Nagadatta of the Vatsiputriya school, before being expelled and becoming a student of Vasubandhu. This branch of Buddhist thought defended the view that there exists a kind of real personality independent of the elements or aggregates composing it.
Among Dignaga's works there is Hetucakra (The wheel of reason), considered his first work on formal logic, advancing a new form of deductive reasoning. It may be regarded as a bridge between the older doctrine of trairūpya and Dignaga's own later theory of vyapti which is a concept related to the Western notion of implication.
Other works include The Treatise on the Objects of Cognition (Ālambana-parīkṣā), The Treatise on Systems of Cognition (Pramāṇa-samuccaya), and The Treatise on the Correct Principles of Logic (*Nyāya-mukha), produced in an effort to establish what were the valid sources of knowledge.
Contribution to Buddhist Logic
During Dignāga's time, the Nyaya school of Hinduism had began to hold debates using their 5 step approach to making and evaluating arguments with logic. Buddhist debaters such as Dignāga wanted to engage in these debates, and also have a way to logically evaluate arguments, but a premise such as "all dogs are mammals" proved problematic for his idealist Yogacara philosophy. Dignāga was a student of Vasubandhu, and therefore believed that "the dharmas are empty." In other words, there are not universal qualities such as "dog-ness" or "mammal-ness." Such universals would have to be unchanging, and since all things are subject to change and are lacking in essential essence according to his school of philosophy, Dignāga attempted to find a way to engage in argument within the Nyaya structure without positing through the arguments that there is an essential "dog-ness," or what have you.
In order to do this he employed what is referred to in formal logic in the West as contraposition, or in Sanskrit, Apoha, where one switches the terms and swaps them for their term complement. Therefore the example premise above, "all dogs are mammals" becomes "all non-mammals are non-dogs." These two statements are logically equivalent. Once this had been done, Dignāga could make arguments about non-mammals without explicitly positing that mammals have an essential nature. While this move gets off the ground towards his goal, reflection shows that making universal statements about non-mammals still implies that there are mammals who share an essential nature, and everything else, which lacks this "mammal-ness." Still, using this method Dignāga and other Buddhist logicians were able to further their logical discourse and felt more comfortable engaging in Nyaya structured debates.
- Karr, Andy (2007). Contemplating Reality: A Practitioner's Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Shambhala Publications. p. 212. ISBN 9781590304297.
- Frauwallner, Erich, Dignāga, sein Werk und seine Entwicklung. (Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens 2:83-164, 1959)
- Hattori Masaaki, Dignāga, On Perception, being the Pratyakṣapariccheda of Dignāga's Pramāṇasamuccaya from the Sanskrit fragments and the Tibetan Versions (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968)
- Hayes, Richard, Dignāga on the Interpretation of Signs (Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing Company, 1982)
- Katsura Shoryu, Dignāga and Dharmakīrti on apoha in E. Steinkellner ed., Studies in the Buddhist Epistemological Tradition (Vienna, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1991), pp. 129–146
- Mookerjee, S. The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux, an Exposition of the Philosophy of Critical Realism as expounded by the School of Dignāga (Calcutta, 1935)
- Sastri, N. Aiyaswami, Diṅnāga's Ālambanaparīkṣā and Vṛtti. Restored with the commentary of Dharmapāla into Sanskrit from the Tibetan and Chinese versions and edited with English translations and notes with extracts from Vinītadeva's commentary. (Madras: The Adyar Library. 1942)
- Tucci, G The Nyāyamukha of Dignāga, the oldest Buddhist Text on Logic after Chinese and Tibetan Materials (Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismus, 15 Heft, Heidelberg, 1930)
- Vidyabhusana, S.C. A History of Indian Logic - Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Schools (Calcutta, 1921)
- Dignaga's Logic of Invention, by Volker Peckhaus
- Das Rad der Gründe, German translation of The Wheel of Reason
- Vidhabhusana, Satis Chandra (1907). History of the Mediaeval School of Indian Logic. Calcutta University.