Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at EARTHLINK.NET
Sat Apr 26 03:11:38 UTC 2008

Dear Patrick,

You raise a question I have been thinking about a great deal recently. I
don't have "the" answer, but some partial thoughts or hypotheses that may or
may not be helpful.

As Ashok pointed out, we know that commentaries were being written and
transmitted during what I've started to call the "black hole" period, since
author and text names -- and snippets of arguments -- continue to be
mentioned in later literature even after the texts were lost. In the case of
Buddhism, some commentaries from the black hole period have been preserved
in Chinese, as well as occasional non-Buddhist texts, like Candramati's
dazapadArtha-zAstra (a Vaisesika text).

In the grammatical tradition, one has to also decide whether to consider
Candra(-gomin)'s Grammar a "commentary" on Panini or an independent work (it
predates Bhartrhari). We know there was an active commentarial tradition on
Candra, in Kashmir and other places, that eventually led to the

In terms of the philosophical traditions, my conjecture at the moment is
that the crucial event was the advent of Dignaga's (ca 500 CE) ecumenical
debate system. We know he had a major impact on all schools, since they all
discuss him for many centuries -- attempting to accept or refute him -- even
after Dharmakirti dramatically revolutionized his basic ideas.

The black hole is basically the pre-Dignaga materials. Prasastapada was his
later contemporary, responding to Dignaga in such a way that he radically
reformulates Vaisesika (adds padarthas, God, etc.). Recently further
evidence for dating Vatsyayana as either contemporary or later than Dignaga
has appeared. I have also recently come to suspect that even some sections
of the Nyaya sutra dealing with pramana theory are later strata

Why did Dignaga have this tremendous impact? His formulations concerning
what counted as prasiddha (something that can be generally accepted between
disputants without requiring additional proof) raised the stakes for
everyone involved in debates. Incorporating that into stringent and clear
criteria for valid inferences suddenly exposed the shaky epistemological
grounds on which various schools had been standing. In short, the earlier
material had become obsolete, even embarrassing, and so was jettisoned or
left to atrophy as newer formulations (sometimes remaking the foundations of
the school) were developed that would meet the Dignaga challenge and

It is clear, for instance, that Dignaga was heavily influenced by
(pre-Prasastapada) Vaisesika in many things (including restricting pramana
to only pratyaksa and anumana; his apoha theory presupposes something like
the Vaisesika ontology, etc.). (His other major influence, not generally
recognized in modern literature, was the hetuvidya portions of Asanga's
Yogacarabhumi [in the zrutamayI-bhUmi] and Abhidharmasamuccaya.) Yet all the
pre-Dignaga Vaisesika texts quickly disappeared after him (the
aforementioned Candramati text, brought to China and translated by Xuanzang
in the mid-600s, indicates that Prasastapada's reformulation was not the
only attempt to rethink the Vaisesika tradition in the wake of Dignaga,
though eventually the Prasastapada version outlasted its rivals).

The two major pre-Dignaga works that survive are Bhartrhari (who deeply
influenced everyone, including Dignaga) and Sabara. Bhartrhari survives
because of his importance (e.g., he was an important component of the
Nalanda curriculum). Sabara survives because the latter, surviving
Mimamsikas, viz Kumarila and Prabhakara, retained his bhasya on Jaimini as
the foundation for their own systems (e.g., Kumarila in his Tantravarttika;
note Kumarila's Slokavarttika devotes a great deal of attention to
responding to Dignaga). Bhavaviveka's chapter on Mimamsa in his
madhyamakahRdayam (the Skt verses were published a couple of decades ago by
Lindtner; a translation of the verses and the Tarkajvala comm. preserved in
Tib. is underway by D. Eckel) reveals Mimamsa views only partially
identifiable with Sabara, and many that seem highly uncharacteristic of what
we today think of as Mimamsa -- a further indication, I believe, of
Dignaga's impact. Whatever was not retained by Kumarila disappeared.

I'd be very curious to learn whether others have further light to shed on
this. (or corrections, suggestions, etc., especially, to renew Patrick's
query, whether additional texts from the black hole period are being

Dan Lusthaus

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