Recognizing Reality

Dharmakīrti's Philosophy and Its Tibetan Interpretations

By Georges B. J. Dreyfus

Subjects: Tibetan Buddhism
Series: SUNY series in Buddhist Studies
Paperback : 9780791430989, 622 pages, January 1997
Hardcover : 9780791430972, 622 pages, January 1997

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Technical Notes

Introduction I.

A Few Methodological Considerations Purpose and Content

The Commentarial Style of Indian and Tibetan Philosophical Traditions

Scholarly Context

The Hermeneutical Significance of Comparison

The Structure of the Work

Introduction II.

Dharmakirti's Tradition in India and Tibet

The Epistemological Turn in Indian Philosophy

The Place of Dharmakirti in Indian Buddhism

Dharmakirti's Tradition in Tibet

Foundation of the Sa-gya Scholastic Tradition

A Conflict of Interpretations

Sa-gya Commentators

The Rise of the Ge-luk Tradition

The Origin and Significance of Sectarian Divisions

Book One. Ontology and Philosophy of Language

Part I. Ontology

Chapter 1
Ontology and Categories

Indian Philosophy and the Pramana Method

Epistemology and Ontological Commitments

Indian Schools of Philosophy

Nyaya Realism and the Importance of Categories

The Meanings of Realism

Nyaya Realism and the Status of Wholes

Dharmakiti's Critique of Substance

Chapter 2
Dharmakirti's Ontology

Momentariness and the Structure of Dharmakirti's System

Dharmakirti on Momentariness

Causal Nature of Reality

Dharmakirti's Ontology and Its Relation to the Problem of Universals

Uncommoness and Identity Conditions

Chapter 3
The Ambiguities of the Concept of Existence

The Problems of Dharmakirti's Concepts of Existence

Sa-pan's Controversial Views on Existence

Defenses and Interpretations of Sa-pan

Chapter 4
The Purview of the "Real"

Atomic Theory An Alternate Interpretation

No Extended Object Can Be Real

Some Extended Objects Are Real

Extension in Space and Time

All Extended Objects Are Real

Who Is Right?

Yogacara in Dharmakirti's System

Is Dharmakirti Contradicting Himself?

Chapter 5
Ge-luk Thinkers on Specific Ontology

Commonsense Objects and Universals

Ge-luk Realism and Commonsense Objects

Realism and Momentariness

Philosophy and the Validity of Conventions

Realist Explanations of the Nature of the Specifically Characterized

Nominal Existence and Existence

A Partial Reconciliation


Part II.
The Problem Of Universals

Chapter 6
Introducing Universals

Three Dimensions in the Problem of Universals

Antirealism and Its Varieties: Conceptualism and Nominalism

Extreme and Moderate Realisms and Their Predicaments

Realism in India

Moderate Realism in Indian Traditions

Why Bother with Universals?

Chapter 7
Dharmakirti on Universals

Logic and Ontology

Dharmakirti's Arguments Against Realism

The Roles of Universals

Universals and Similarities

An Assessment of Resemblance Theory

Chapter 8
Sa-gya Antirealism and the Problems of Predication

Sa-pan's Refutation of Realism

Sakya Chok-den on Predication

Predication and the Validity of Thought

Are Distinguishers Parts of Reality?

The Conceptual Nature of Individuations

Chapter 9
Ge-luk Realism

Universals in the Collected Topics

One and Many

Arguments for Moderate Realism

Subject and Predicate

Philosophy and Linguistic Ambiguities

Chapter 10
Realism in Buddhist Tradition

Two Early Tibetan Realists

Moderate Realism in Tibet and Madhyamaka

Moderate Realism in India

The Role of Universals in Inference


Part III.
Philosophy Of Language

Chapter 11
Introduction to Apoha

The History of Apoha and its Reception Grammar and Philosophy of Language in India

Dignaga on Apoha

Hindu Reactions: the Mimamsa View

Chapter 12
Dharmakirti on Concept Formation

Thought and Language

Two Definitions of Thought

The Negative Nature of Conceptuality

Formation of Concept

The Mistaken Nature of Concepts

Conclusion: Dharmakirti's Response to the Hindu Critique

Chapter 13
The Concept of Negation and the Evolution of the Apoha Theory

Are Negation and Elimination Equivalent?

Objective Elimination

Santaraksita on Representations

The Evolution of the Apoha Theory

Ge-luk Views of Negations

Sa-gya Views on Negations

Chapter 14
Object Universal and Concept Formation

Importance of the Notion of Object

Universal in the Tibetan Tradition

Object Universal in the Ge-luk Tradition

Object Universal in the Sa-gya Tradition

Comparative Conclusion

Chapter 15
Philosophy of Language

The Terminology of the Inquiry


Dharmakirti on Name and Reference

Signifier and Signified

A Sa-gya View

Moderate Realism and Language

Book Two. Epistemology

Part I. Valid Cognition

Chapter 16
Dharmakirti's Epistemology of Valid Cognition

Mental Terminology and the Mind-Body Problem

Knowledge and Pramana

Defining Pramana

The Epistemological Role of Language

Epistemological Typology

Chapter 17
Was Dharmakirti a Pragmatist?

Valid Cognition and Its Object

An Intentional Interpretation

The Requirement of Novelty

A Pragmatist Explanation of Nondeceptiveness

A Pragmatic Theory of Truth?

Reductionism and Intentionality

Chapter 18
Can Inference Be Valid?

Dharmakirti on the Validity of Thought

A Major Difficulty in Dharmakirti's System

A Realist Answer


Part II.

Chapter 19
Philosophy of Perception

Representationalism and Its Problems

Representationalism and Realism in Indian Philosophy

Aspects and Reflexivity

The Foundational Significance of Aspects

Chapter 20
Dharmakirti's Account of Perception

The Nyaya Theory of Perception

Dharmakirti's Definition of Perception

Dharmakirti's Arguments

Chapter 21
A New Epistemology Begins: Dharmottara on Perception

Dharmottara as a Commentator and an Innovator

The Validity of Perception

Bridging the Gap Between Perception and Conception

Does Perception Determine Its Object?

Chapter 22
Tibetan New Epistemology

Cha-ba's Epistemology of Perception

Ge-luk Views of Perception

Implicit and Explicit

Epistemological Typologies

Chapter 23
Cha-ba's Philosophy of Mind

Cha-ba's Typology of Objects

Sakya Chok-den's Polemical Use of History

Critical Appraisal

Chapter 24
Sa-pan's Critique of the New Epistemology

Sa-pan's Rejection of Cha-ba's Typology

The Case of Inattentive Cognition

Ascertainment Is Conceptual

Explicit and Implicit

Dharmakirti's Problem and Sa-pan's Solution

Chapter 25
Perception and Apperception

Dharmakirti on the Self

Presencing of Mental States

Does Self-Cognition Have an Object?

Go-ram-ba's Representationalism

A Ge-luk Understanding of Dharmakirti's Aspects

Representationalism, Realism, and Causal Theories

The Soteriological Implications of Apperception

Chapter 26
Are External Objects Perceptible?

Are Objects Hidden or Hidden"?

An Unstable Compromise: Go-ram-ba's Representationalism

The Difficulties of Representationalism

External Objects Inferred?

How Hidden Can "Hidden" Be?

Chapter 27
Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Religion

Yogacara in Dharmakirti's Thought

True or False Aspect?

Sakya Chok-den on Yogacara

The Importance of Yogacara in Dharmakirti's Thought

Philosophy and Soteriology in Dharmakirti


Conclusion: Philosophy as an Education of the Mind

Realism and Antirealism as Interpretations

Philosophy as an Education

Epistemology and the Madhyamaka Critique

Prasangika and Epistemology: Dzong-ka-ba's Realism

Go-ram-ba's Suspicion of Language

Buddhist Epistemology as an Education


Glossary: Tibetan - Sanskrit - English

Glossary: Sanskrit - Tibetan - English


Author Index

Subject Index

Examines the central ideas of Dharmakirti, one of the most important Indian Buddhist philosophers and their reception by Tibetan thinkers.


Dreyfus examines the central ideas of Dharmakīrti, one of the most important Indian Buddhist philosophers, and their reception among Tibetan thinkers. During the golden age of ancient Indian civilization, Dharmakīrti articulated and defended Buddhist philosophical principles. He did so more systematically than anyone before his time (the seventh century CE) and was followed by a rich tradition of profound thinkers in India and Tibet. This work presents a detailed picture of this Buddhist tradition and its relevance to the history of human ideas. Its perspective is mostly philosophical, but it also uses historical considerations as they relate to the evolution of ideas.

Georges B. J. Dreyfus is Assistant Professor of Religion at Williams College. He studied Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan monasteries in India for fifteen years where he completed the degree of Ge-shay, traditionally the highest degree awarded by Tibetan Buddhist monastic universities.


"Georges Dreyfus is to my knowledge to date the only Westerner who is a fully-qualified Tibetan Ge-shay. He knows exactly how this material is interpreted and used in Tibetan debate within the dGe lugs tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The fact that Dreyfus is also very aware of Western philosophy, broader Indian thought, other Tibetan schools than the dGe lugs, and is able to adopt a fully critical approach to his material which does not shy away from criticisms of the dGe lugs material within which he was trained, makes for a wonderful book from the scholar most qualified to write it. When all this is combined with an enthusiasm for his material, a sensitivity to its historical and political context, and a systematic exposition with an almost unbelievable clarity, we have a very exciting book indeed." — Paul Williams, Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Bristol

"The author's background gives him an almost unparalleled richness of perspectives from which to view the complex material about which he writes. Although there are several other scholars working on the topics dealt with in this book, few of them are able to pull as many resources together from Indian and Tibetan traditions; fewer still are capable of explaining these ideas in terms accessible to a study of Western philosophy." — Richard P. Hayes, McGill University