How to define valid cognition (against Buddhists) if you are Śālikanātha?

The beginning of Śālikanātha’s Pramāṇapārāyaṇa is dedicated to a discussion of how to define pramāṇa ‘instrument of valid cognition’. As it was custom since Dignāga’s innovation in the philosophical style, Śālikanātha quotes and refutes several positions.

The first ones are various Buddhist positions. Dharmakīrti’s definition connects the criterion of avisaṃvāditva literally ‘being non-controversial’ but more likely ‘being non-erroneous’ to that of arthakriyā ‘causal efficacy’. Śālikanātha refutes it on the ground of the fact that this does not exclude smṛti ‘memory’, which can also be avisaṃvādin. At this point, various Buddhist voices try to fix this possible flaw in the definition. It is not clear to me how many of them are historically attested and how many are concocted by Śālikanātha as logically possible responses. Some of them claim that smṛti is excluded because it is conceptual (vikalpa), but this is a dangerous move, since Śālikanātha can immediately reply that, based on that, also inference should be refuted, since also inference is conceptual.

A further possibility is to say that smṛti is not pramāṇa because it lacks arthakriyā. But is this really the case? One might say that the object of smṛti is always something past and that it therefore cannot lead you to attain any present object. However, this is also true, in some sense, for anumāna (remember that in the case of anumāna you usually infer the cause from its effect and that inferring the effect from the cause is not a valid anumāna). One might correct the previous point by suggesting that in anumāna the inferential reason is connected to the probandum, which can therefore be said to be attained. However, this, again, holds true also for smṛti, since also in the case of smṛti there is a connection with the object, via mnestic traces (saṃskāra). Why should this be so different from the case of anumāna?

The sequence of voices makes it difficult for one to identify the main speaker and the various uttarapakṣin, but the main thread remains clear, namely:

  • Dharmakīrti’s definition is too broad, since it does not exclude smṛti
  • Other Buddhist attempts to exclude smṛti are futile, since they would end up excluding also anumāna

So, how can smṛti be excluded? Only through the Mīmāṃsā definition of pramāṇa, namely aprāptaprāpaka ‘causing one to understand something which was not known before’.

(Cross-posted on my personal blog)

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog:, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

2 Replies to “How to define valid cognition (against Buddhists) if you are Śālikanātha?”

  1. Very interesting stuff, would love to read more about Śālikanātha!

    I’m not sure whether he’s fully right thought. Dharmakīrti in the PV 2.5c says that pramāṇa reveals yet unknown object (ajñātārthaprakāśo vā). This excludes smṛti, I think. George Dreyfus says that the corresponding definition of pramāṇa in the PVin lacks this condition and reports Gelukbas discussions about it. The novelty requirement comes back in the Hetubindu (32.24-25). Maybe, Dharmakīrti’s position is not that different from aprāptaprāpaka after all.

    • Thanks, Szymon. I will certainly post more about Śālikanātha this month. Yes, Kataoka explains in an article how the apūrvatva criterion has been borrowed from Mīmāṃsā by Dharmakīrti and his school.
      Śālikanātha possibly goes through the criterion one by one, thus, he first analyses whether avisaṃvādin would be enough, then adds arthakriyā to the picture and later on discusses the problem of ajñātārthaprāptakatva in connection with continuous cognitions (see here:
      (thanks for letting me think about it!)

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