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This paper, which will form part of a July 2020 special issue on conceptuality and nonconceptuality in Buddhist thought, evaluates the philosophical merits of the Pratyabhijñā Śaiva critique of Dharmakīrti’s stance that the judgment of sameness that constitutes a concept formed via exclusion (apoha) does not require ultimate grounding. For Dharmakīrti (7th century), the judgment of sameness rests on the existence of causally specific particulars that, while themselves lacking any similarity whatsoever, may be practically (but erroneously) judged to have the same effects relative to a goal. Because identifying the first cause within a causal sequence is impossible, Dharmakīrti denies the need to account for the origin of causal differentiation, thereby attempting to dodge a number of critiques surrounding how his ontology of unique particulars could ever give rise to apparent similarities. The Pratyabhijñā Śaiva tradition, as first systematized by Utpaladeva (10th century) and elaborated by Abhinavagupta (10th-11th century), utterly rejects that Dharmakīrti’s move avoids circularity. To sum up these Śaivas’ critique: Dharmakīrti cannot avoid the question of what causes the diversity of experiences in the conventional world by appealing to beginningless causal processes because these processes themselves require the existence of some kind of real stuff that has the capacity to manifest in diverse forms. While an appeal to beginningless karmic imprints is perfectly sufficient to account for the differences between various karmic streams within the conventional world, it is not sufficient to account for the mere fact that there is differentiated stuff capable of entering into causal relations. The Pratyabhijñā Śaivas offer a distinctive solution to this problem: while they affirm that ultimate reality is beginningless in the sense that it is beyond time, they also claim that time itself has a “beginning” in the expression of the nondual differentiation inherent to the ultimate itself. They further link the expression of time with the creation of the subject/object pairs that define conventional worlds—and use Dharmakīrti’s own apoha (exclusion) theory of concept formation to explain how this happens.


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