Indian Buddhist Epistemology and the Path to Liberation

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The path to liberation constitutes the background of much of the early South Asian philosophical discussion, which also finds its justification in the contribution it can provide to a theory of the ‘path’. This theory aims to explain methods of practice and patterns of religious behaviour leading to the goal of liberation.

The project is designed to investigate, translate and critically edit a section in Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇavārttika (including a newly surfaced manuscript) concerning the path to liberation, namely the mārgasatya-section. In addition, Manorathanandin’s commentary (vṛtti) and Vibhūticandra’s glosses to this section will be considered. The section displays how Dharmakīrti, one of the foremost and influential South Asian philosophers, understood and justified the Bodhisattva path. Contrasting various models of liberation antagonistic to those expounded in the teaching of the four Truths, the text offers a historically relevant overview of the philosophical issues related to the contemporaneous debate about paths to liberation (6th–7th cent.). Dharmakīrti’s overarching stance is that there cannot be liberation in connection with any form of view of a Self, and only a practice that addresses this view as an obstacle can be successful against the perpetuation of suffering. The text also provides a distinct doctrinal backdrop for the entire philosophical enterprise which Dharmakīrti was engaged in, namely to establish an epistemological method that demonstrates which contents remain valid after scrutiny.

Manorathanandin’s commentary and Vibhūticandra’s glosses, being the last attested commentarial undertakings in Sanskrit on the Pramāṇavārttika, constitute a privileged observatory for the study of the reception of this work in the Northern Indian subcontinent around the beginning of the second millennium. They also provide textual materials for the reconstruction of ideas and interpretations, the sources of which are no longer available in Sanskrit.

The project is therefore a philological and historical study of the selected texts together with a philosophical and hermeneutic analysis. Based on a reliable edition and a historically determined interpretative point of view, such as Manorathanandin’s, the results of the project will enhance our understanding of the cultural and intellectual history to which the texts belong, highlighting how main epistemological subjects are brought into a discussion about the path and contributing to the study of path theories and their role in the classical philosophy of South Asia.

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