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For the 10th century teacher from Suvarṇadvīpa, see Dharmakīrtiśrī.

Dharmakīrti (fl. c. 7th century) was a Buddhist scholar from India.[1] He was one of the key scholars of philosophical logic in Buddhism, and is associated with its Yogacara school.[2] He was one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism.[3] His works particularly influenced the scholars of Mimamsa, Nyaya and Shaivism schools of Hinduism as well as scholars of Jainism,[4] and they remain part of modern era studies in Buddhist monasteries in Tibet.[5]

Dharmakirti is also the name of an Indonesian scholar, who is sometimes spelled as Dharmakīrtiśrī and considered a great teacher of Buddhism in Suvarnadvipa (~10th–11th century), but unrelated to the Buddhist logician of the 7th century.[6]


Little is known for certain about the life of Dharmakirti.[1] Tibetan hagiographies suggest he was a Brahmin born in South India,[7] studied under Isvarasena,[8] belonged to the Mimamsa school of Hinduism, left Mimamsa and moved to Nalanda where he interacted with 6th century Dharmapala.[1][7] However, the accuracy of the Tibetan hagiographies is uncertain, and scholars place him in the 7th-century instead. This is because of inconsistencies in different Tibetan and Chinese texts, and because it is around the middle of 7th-century, and thereafter, that Indian texts begin discussing his ideas,[1][9][5] such as the citation of Dharmakirti verses in the works of Adi Shankara.[3] Dharmakīrti is placed by most scholars to have lived between 600–660 CE, but a few place him earlier.[4]

Dharmakirti is credited with building upon the work of Dignāga, the pioneer of Buddhist logic, and Dharmakirti has ever since been influential in the Buddhist tradition.[5] His theories became normative in Tibet and are studied to this day as a part of the basic monastic curriculum.[5]

Dharmakirti worked at Nalanda as a lay Buddhist, not as an ordained monk, and his work reflects his belief that no one will understand the value of his work, his efforts soon forgotten.[1][10] History proved his fears wrong.[1]


Dharmakirti is credited with the following major works:

    • Saṃbandhaparikṣhāvrtti (Analysis of Relations)
    • Pramāṇaviniścaya (Ascertainment of Valid Cognition)
    • Pramāṇavārttikakārika (Commentary on Dignaga's 'Compendium of Valid Cognition')
    • Nyāyabinduprakaraṇa (Drop of Reasoning)
    • Hetubindunāmaprakaraṇa (Drop of Reasons)
    • Saṃtānāntarasiddhināmaprakaraṇa (Proof of Others' Continuums)
    • Vādanyāyanāmaprakaraṇa (Reasoning for Debate)


Historical context[edit]

The Buddhist works such as the Bodhisattvabhūmi and the Mahāyānasūtrālaṅkāra composed before the 6th century CE, on hetuvidyā (logic, dialectics) are unsystematic, whose approach and structure are heresiological, proselytical and apologetic.[4] Their aims were to defeat non-Buddhist opponents (Hinduism, Jainism, Ajivikas, others), defend the ideas of Buddhism, develop a line of arguments that monks can use to convert those who doubt Buddhism and to strengthen the faith of Buddhists who begin to develop doubts.[4] Around the middle of the 6th century, possibly to address the polemics of non-Buddhist traditions with their pramana foundations, the Buddhist scholar Dignāga shifted the emphasis from dialectics to more systematic epistemology and logic, retaining the heresiological and apologetic focus.[4] Dharmakīrti followed in Dignāga footsteps, and is credited with systematic philosophical doctrines on Buddhist epistemology, which Vincent Eltschinger states, has "a full-fledged positive/direct apologetic commitment".[4]

According to Tom Tillemans, the Dignāga-Dharmakīrti ideas constitute a nominalist philosophy and they disagree with the Madhyamaka philosophy, by asserting that some entities are real.[1] Dharmakirti states that the real is only the momentarily existing particular (svalakṣaṇa), and any universal (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) is unreal and fiction. The ideas of Dharmakīrti represent the Yogācāra idealism.[1]


There has long been disagreement among Indian and Tibetan doxographers as to how to categorise Dharmakirti's thought. The Gelug school asserts that he expressed Yogacara views, most non-Gelug Tibetan commentators assert that he expressed Sautrāntika views and, according to one Tibetan source, a number of renowned later Indian Madhyamikas asserted that he expressed Madhyamaka views.[11]


Dharmakīrti wrote a treatise on the nature of the mindstream in his Substantiation of Other Mindstreams (Saṃtānāntarasiddhi).[12] Dharmakirti held the mindstream to be beginning-less yet also described the mindstream as a temporal sequence, and that as there are no true beginnings, there are no true endings, hence, the "beginningless time" motif that is frequently used to describe the concept of mindstream, as Dunne relates:

Buddhist philosophers often speak of beginninglessness. It is claimed that the minds of living beings, for example, have no beginning, and that our current [U]niverse is only one in a beginningless cycle of expansion and decay. Some Buddhist thinkers would claim that even the most mundane task can have no true beginning. That is, if a beginning occurs, there must be some moment, some "now", in which it occurs. For the present to exist, however, there must be a past and a future, for what would "now" mean if there were no time other than now? And of course, if there is a past, then how could now be a beginning? Now should instead be the end of the past. Each beginning in short, must itself have a beginning.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Tom Tillemans (2011), Dharmakirti, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. ^ Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2009). Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed. University of Chicago Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-226-49324-4. 
  3. ^ a b Hajime Nakamura (1980). Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 301 with footnotes. ISBN 978-81-208-0272-8. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Eltschinger 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d Kenneth Liberman (2007). Dialectical Practice in Tibetan Philosophical Culture: An Ethnomethodological Inquiry into Formal Reasoning. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-7425-7686-5. 
  6. ^ Dalai Lama (1994). The Path to Enlightenment. Snow Lion Publications. pp. 16, 231 footnote 3. ISBN 978-1-55939-904-3. 
  7. ^ a b Lal Mani Joshi (1977). Studies in the Buddhistic Culture of India During the 7th and 8th Centuries A.D. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 146–147. ISBN 978-81-208-0281-0. 
  8. ^ Hajime Nakamura (1980). Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 301. ISBN 978-81-208-0272-8. 
  9. ^ Kurtis R. Schaeffer (2013). Sources of Tibetan Tradition. Columbia University Press. p. 372. ISBN 978-0-231-13599-3. 
  10. ^ Collins, Randall (2000). The sociology of philosophies: a global theory of intellectual change. Volume 30, Issue 2 of Philosophy of the social sciences. Harvard University Press. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-674-00187-9. 
  11. ^ Ngawang Palden in the Sautrantika chapter of his Explanation of the Conventional and the Ultimate in the Four Systems of Tenets (Grub mtha' bzhi'i lugs kyi kun rdzob dang don dam pa'i don rnam par bshad pa legs bshad dpyid kyi dpal mo'i glu dbyangs, New Delhi: Guru Deva, 1972, 39.5–39.6) says that some such as Prajñakaragupta, Suryagupta, Shantarakshita, Kamalashila, and Jetari interpret Dharmakirti’s Commentary on [Dignaga’s] Compendium of Valid Cognition (Tshad ma rnam 'grel, Pramanavarttika) as a Madhyamika treatise. Dependent-Arising and Emptiness: A Tibetan Buddhist Interpretation of Madhyamika Philosophy Emphasizing the Compatibility of Emptiness and Conventional Phenomena Napper, Elizabeth. Boston: Wisdom Publications. p. 685, note 142
  12. ^ Source: [1] (accessed: Wednesday 28 October 2009). There is an English translation of this work by Gupta (1969: pp.81–121) which is a rendering of Stcherbatsky's work from the Russian: Gupta, Harish C. (1969). Papers of Th. Stcherbatsky. Calcutta: Indian Studies Past and Present. (translated from Russian by Harish C. Gupta).
  13. ^ Dunne, John D. (2004). Foundations of Dharmakīrti's philosophy. Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 978-0-86171-184-0. Source: [2] (accessed: Monday May 4, 2010), p.1


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