more on aatma-/asatkhyaati

John Dunne John.Dunne at ORIENT.UNIL.CH
Fri Feb 20 15:07:57 UTC 1998

Olenev Dmitry remarks:

>   I would like to thank all those who answered my question of khyaati

>theory; all answers were very essential and helpful. Especially I

>appreciated the reference to Schmithusen's book about Vibhramaviveka.

>   My problem was to know the point of buddhist theories of false

>cognition AS EXPLAINED IN BUDDHIST SOURCES because I'm not sure of

>maadhyasthyam of brahmanist philosophers who critisized these 


Well, since I don't really have time to be writing this message, I've
been waiting for someone else to state what is perhaps already obvious:
the terms *aatmakhyaati* and *asatkhyaati* are not "Buddhist" terms, in
the sense that they were neither coined nor favored by Buddhist authors.
Dharmakiirti, for example, does not use them at all, and to my knowledge,
they are not employed by the two earliest commentators on Dharmakiirti,
namely, Devendrabuddhi and Zaakyabuddhi. The question of perceptual
illusion is particularly important in  "pramaa.navaada" discourse; hence,
the fact that Dharmakiirti and his early commentators shun these terms
may suggest either that they were unaware of them, or that they perceived
the terms as a strategem to draw them into a debate that  they could not

For your information, two particularly important passages for
Dharmakiirti's discussion of perceptual error come to mind. Since I
already have all this stuff on my hard-disk, I'll just splatter it 

1st passage: Pramaa.navaarttika III( (commentaries:
Devendrabuddhi, Derge tshad ma che, 211b7ff; Zaakyabuddhi, tsad ma nye,

2nd passage: Dharmakiirti's fairly lengthy comments on Pramaa.navaartika
I.98-99ab in his Svav.rtti (Gnoli edition, pp. 49-51; commentaries:
Zaakyabuddhi, Derge tsad ma je, 111a6ff, most of ZB's Sanskrit included
in Kar.nakagomin's comments, p. 206ff -- read ** for
the mistaken ** on p.206, line 19-20; some
interesting differences betweek Kar.nakagomin and Zaakyabuddhi here).

There are, of course, other relevant passages, but these two are
particularly approprite. The 2nd passage, which is ostensibly about
*pratyabhij~naana* ("recognition"), is the most relevant, for it quickly
digresses into the type of discussion about illusion in which one would
expect some mention of aatma-/asatkhyaati (and anyathaakhyaati,
vipariitakhyaati, etc.). Not only are these terms relevant, but the
positions they describe are discussed; nevertheless, the terms themselves
are not mentioned.

Kar.nakagomin, in his usual zeal for (often incorrectly) identifying, says that the theories of both Uddyotakara and Kumaarila
are being refuted here (p. 207, last para.). Although Uddyotakara is
probably under discussion, I am still unconvinced that Dharmakiirti
responds to the *Zlokavaartika* in his *Svav.rtti*. In any case,
K-gomin's mention of these two once again points to the relevance of
raising aatma-/asatkhyaati, if only for completeness.

With regard to this passage from the Svav.rtti and its commentaries, the
question remains whether these terms are deliberately avoided or simply
not yet in current usage. Of course, by the time of Kar.nakagomin (ca.
1000), Vaacaspatimizra had already used the terms fairly extensively;
nevertheless, their absence in Kar.nakagomin may simply reflect their
absence in the earlier sources on which he relied ("relied" here usually
means "copied"). 

Hence, for my purposes an interesting question would be: "were these
terms in common usage by Zaakyabuddhi's time (ca. 700)?" Perhaps
Schmithausen's book has already given an answer. As for later Buddhists,
it might be worth a glance at Praj~naakaragupta's commentary on the first
passage I mentioned.

Speaking of Schmithausen's book, Birgit notes:

<paraindent><param>left,out</param>Man.d.anami'sra's treatment of the
aatma-/asatkhyaati is given on

p.233-236, where, in addition to a Yogaacaara-aatmakhyaati, 

also refers to a "more complicated" Sautraantika-aatmakhyaati which can

</paraindent><paraindent><param>left,out,out</param>be found in
Dignaaga's Pramaan.asamuccaya and in Dharmakiirti's texts.

</paraindent><<end quote>

I assume that Schmithausen is referring to Ma.n.danamizra's version of
Yogaacaara and Sautraantika. Since Dharmakiirti, at least, does not use
these terms, it seems highly problematic to apply them to his philosophy.
Indeed, *aatmakhyaati* is not a very accurate way of describing
Dharmakiirti's theory of error, whether taken from the perspective of
assuming or denying external objects. Oh, and by the way, the Svav.rtti
passage I mentioned quite clearly deals with both *baahyaarthavaada* (or
the so-called *sautraantika*) as well as *antarj~neyavaada* (the
preferred term for *yogaacaara* in much of the commentarial literature on
Dharmakiirti). Needless to say, *aalayavij~naana* and *vaasanaa* play an
important role in Dharmakiirti's theory.

Moving beyond Dharmakiirti (et. al.), I would also claim that
*asatkhyaati* is a distorted way of describing a madhyamaka style theory
of error, primarily because it collapses the distinction between the "two
truths" (*satyadvaya*). It doesn't even work for Candarakiirti's radical
form of Madhyamaka. A particularly relevant passage that comes to mind is
Madhyamakaavataara 6.28 with the bhaa.sya; see also Jayananda's
interesting commentary on this portion. You may also want to look at
David Eckel's work on the use of the rope-snake illusion as a metaphor in

For me, the best way to understand Buddhist theories of error is focus on
the simple and ubiquitous formulation: * tadj~naana*. 

But perhaps that is too easy an answer.

I hope all this blabbing proved helpful.


John Dunne


John Dunne

Section de langues et civilisations orientales

Université de Lausanne
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