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Dharmakīrti (T. chos kyi grags pa; C. facheng 法稱) (fl. c. 6th or 7th century) was an Indian Buddhist scholar who was "one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Buddhist philosophy."[1]

Dharmakīrti wrote a series of major works in support of his predecessor Dignaga, and Dignaga's major work, the Pramāṇa-samuccaya.[1] Dharmakīrti defended Dignaga's views against criticism from Brahmanical writers.[1]

Dharmakīrti's Pramāṇavārttika, his largest and most important work, was very influential in India and Tibet as a central text on the "instruments of knowledge" (pramāṇa) and was widely commented on by various Indian and Tibetan scholars. His texts remain widely studied within Tibetan Buddhist monastic universities.

His works influenced the scholars of Mīmāṃsā, Nyaya and Shaivism schools of Hindu philosophy as well as scholars of Jainism.[2]

The school of thought developed by Dignaga and Dharmakīrti is referred as the pramana tradition on this encyclopedia.


Tom Tillemans states:

The life of Dharmakīrti, a profound and rigorous philosopher of Indian Buddhism, is a subject of hagiography with little solid data upon which we can confidently rely. If we go by Tibetan sources, he seems to have been born in South India and then to have moved to the great monastic university of Nālandā (in present day Bihar state) where he was supposedly in contact with other Buddhist luminaries, such as Dharmapāla (530–561 C.E.). Tibetan sources describe his life in very colorful terms. Indeed some make him out as initially a Mīmāṃsaka who then broke with that non-Buddhist school; others depict him as extraordinarily skilled in debate and hint at a difficult and arrogant personality. Judging by the opening verses in his most famous (and by far his longest) work, the Pramāṇavārttika (Commentary on Epistemology), Dharmakīrti himself thought that his philosophy would not be understood by his contemporaries because of their small-minded vanity.[3]

Tillemans also states:

It is still debated in the modern community of researchers on Dharmakīrti whether one should place this philosopher in the seventh century C.E. or in the sixth. Part of the reason for this indecision is that a significant time seems to have elapsed before Dharmakīrti achieved notoriety in India, although it is unclear how much.[3]

Erich Frauwallner argues for 600–660 C.E. as Dharmakīrti’s dates; other scholars suggest dates of 530-590, or 550-610.[3]

Dharmakīrti's philosophy

Dharmakīrti was one of the most influential scholars of Buddhist logic and epistemology.

Tom Tillemans states:

[Dharmakīrti], and his predecessor Dignāga (c. 480–c. 540 C.E.), were responsible for a school of Buddhist thought that actually had no name in Sanskrit, although in Tibetan it was known as “those who follow reasoning” (rigs pa rjes su ‘brang ba); in modern literature it is sometimes known by the convenient Sanskrit misnomer pramāṇavāda, or more simply, “the Epistemological School.” In any case, it is the Buddhist school that provoked the most sophisticated and most important philosophical debates with non-Buddhist rivals. It represented Buddhism in the pan-Indian debates on problems of universals, philosophies of logic and language, and issues of justification, and had an enormous influence on Mahāyāna Buddhism in Central Asia, especially in Tibet. Finally, although its influence was relatively limited in medieval China (only a few of the works of Dignāga were translated into Chinese, none of the works of Dharmakīrti were translated), it has nonetheless become increasingly important in modern Japan in supplying the epistemology for Buddhist thought.[3]

For an overview of his key philosophical views, see:

  • Sep-man-red.png Tillemans, Tom ( 2021), Dharmakīrti, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Dharmakīrti's seven major works are referred to as the seven treatises on pramāṇa (tshad ma sde bdun) in the Tibetan tradition.[4]

These seven texts are:

  1. Pramāṇavārttika (T. ཚད་མ་རྣམ་འགྲེལ་) - Commentary on Pramāṇa
  2. Pramāṇaviniścaya (T. ཚད་མ་རྣམ་ངེས་) - Ascertainment of Pramāṇa
  3. Nyāyabindu (T. རིགས་ཐིགས་) - Drops of Reasoning
  4. Hetubindu (T. གཏན་ཚིགས་ཐིགས་པ་) - Drops of Logic
  5. Saṃbandhaparīkṣā (T. འབྲེལ་བ་བརྟག་པ་) - Inquiry into Relations
  6. Vādanyāya (T. རྩོད་པའི་རིགས་པ་) - Reasoning of Debate
  7. Saṃtānāntarasiddhi (T. རྒྱུད་གཞན་གྲུབ་པ་) - Proof of Other Minds

He also wrote the Pramāṇavārttika-svavrtti (an auto-commentary on the Pramāṇavārttika).


There are various commentaries by later thinkers on Dharmakīrti, the earliest commentators are the Indian scholars Devendrabuddhi (ca. 675 C E.) and Sakyabuddhi (ca. 700 C.E.).[5] Other Indian commentators include Karṇakagomin, Prajñākaragupta, Manorathanandin, Ravigupta and Śaṅkaranandana.[6]

He was extremely influential in Tibet, where Phya pa Chos kyi Seng ge (1182-1251) wrote the first summary of his works, called "Clearing of Mental Obscuration with Respect to the Seven Treatises on Valid Cognition" (tshad ma sde bdun yid gi mun sel). Sakya Pandita wrote the Treasury of Valid Reasoning (tshad ma rigs gter) and interpreted Dharmakirti as an anti-realist against Phya pa's realism.[7] These two main interpretations of Dharmakīrti became the foundation for most debates in Tibetan epistemology.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Dharmakīrti.
  2. Eltschinger 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Sep-man-red.png Tillemans, Tom ( 2021), Dharmakīrti, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  4. Tillemans 2000, p. xiii.
  5. Dunne 2004, p. 4.
  6. Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" of the University of Heidelberg, http://east.uni-hd.de/buddh/ind/7/16/
  7. Dreyfus 1997, pp. 23-24.


Further Reading

  • Pecchia, C. (ed., with the assistance of Pierce P.). (2015). Dharmakīrti on the Cessation of Suffering. A Critical Edition with Translation and Comments of Manorathanandinʼs Vṛtti and Vibhūticandraʼs Glosses on Pramāṇavārttika II.190-216. Leiden, Brill.