There in only ‘Philosophy:’ The case of Testimony

Thoughts on the Early Indian Yogācāra Understanding of Āgama- Pramāṇa


The Buddhist approach to testimony (āptavāda, āptāgama) as a valid means of cognition (pramāṇa) is far from univocal and involves an intricate and often also ambivalent attitude toward scriptural authority.  The paper focuses on several early Yogācāra Buddhist thinkers who accepted testimony as a reliable epistemic warrant, and offers an account of the sophisticated and highly reflective manner in which they approached the issue of scriptural meaning and authority. For this purpose, the paper first outlines the theoretical framework for considering scripture presented by the early Yogācāra philosopher Vasubandhu’s Vyākhyāyukti, focusing especially on his discussion of the criteria for canonicity and its implications for a system of hermeneutics based on the uncovering of authorial intent. The paper then examines in turn the way in which this framework and its internal tensions were worked out in the writings of Sthiramati (circa 6th century CE) and especially in his Madhyāntavibhāga-bhāṣya-ṭīkā, focusing on his definition of “treatise” (śāstra) and his implied understanding of textual authority.


Yogācāra; Buddhism; Vasubandhu; Sthiramati; Vyākhyāyukti; hermeneutics; testimony; epistemology; canon; scripture

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