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DINNA

CA ON PERCEPTION: A CRITIQUE FROM


ZEN BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE

P. J. Sunny
Assistant Professor
Department of Philosophy
Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit
Kalady, Kerala, India, pjsunny@journalist.com




It gives me immense pleasure to be an official respondent to one of the papers in this ICPR
sponsored National Seminar on Philosophy of Perception organized by Sameeksha
Research Centre. I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Sebastian Painadath, Director of
the Seminar, and Dr. Sreekala M. Nair, Coordinator of the Seminar and my colleague, for
having given me this opportunity. I am extremely happy to reflect on the paper Dinnaga on
Perception and His Conflict with the Naiyayikas, by Dr. Meenal Katarnikar, Reader in
J ainology from University of Mumbai. At the outset, let me appreciate Meenal Katarnikar for
her learned and instructive paper by telling three interesting stories from the literature of Zen
Buddhism.
The story no. 1) In a Zen Monastery a disciple started to run here and there by roaring,
fire, fire, fire. It was at midnight. The monks escaped immediately from the premises of the
monastery. But the Zen master was in good sleep. So the disciple reached the master:
Master, please leave here, the fire is nearer to you. Master asked, Where is it? Where!
the disciple was angry, The whole kitchen caught fire. Please go out. Ok, let it come here.
But now dont disturb my sleep, said the master and fell asleep.
The story no. 2) says that the Zen master Bukoju was asked by his disciple, Master,
every day we eat food, and dress. How can we get out of this nonsense? You just eat and
dress, replied the master. Master, I dont understand. If you dont understand, dont try
to understand. Put on your clothes and eat your food.
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The story no. 3) Suiryo asked Baso, "What is Bodhidharma's idea of coming to this
country from the West (that is, India)?"This is another way of asking the question, "What is
the ultimate teaching of Buddhism?" Instead of giving any verbal answer Baso gave his
questioner a kick on the chest which made the monk fall to the ground. But when he arose, he
gave a hearty laugh, exclaiming, "How wonderful! How strange! Infinities of mysteries
hidden in hundreds of thousands of samadhis are revealed at the tip of one hair which I now
perceive down to their very depths." He then bowed to the master and departed. Later he said
to his Brotherhood, "Ever since the kick given by my master, I cannot help going on
laughing."
These Zen stories reveal the standpoint of Buddhism towards life. Everybody is living in
the world of conceptual constructions by escaping from the concrete reality which is the
present. The moment we hear certain words we begin to react as if they are real entities like a
table or a chair. The word fire is not fire but it invokes an emotional vibration similar to
that of real fire. The word nationality generates different feelings in the mind of an Indian
and a Pakistani. There is no entity nationality as such; it creates different conceptual worlds
in those who inhabit different geographical territories. A Zen master need not worry about
the things to happen, for Zen is an experience of the present. The second story reveals the
secret of boredom and its cause. People are doing different things just because of the
unbearable boredom they suffer. Doctors advise their patients to do different things to get rid
of boredom. But doing different things will cause different karmic impressions which will
condition the doer thereafter. Therefore, doing things without thinking about it is the right
path to be free of the boredom we confront in our life. For this, one has to have a non-dual
experience of doing and being, not doing and thinking. In the third story, Zen master Baso
reminds us that the principles of Buddhism cannot be found in words but in the experience of
here and now. To understand Buddhism experientially, one has to abandon all he has
acquired by way of conceptual knowledge and stand before it stripped of every bit of the
intellection he has accumulated around him. Therefore, Zen says to grasp the object with
ones own naked hands, with no gloves on. For this one has to keep the deep sense of here
and now which is the svalaksana, the ultimate reality. The here and now" of Baso's kick
did not allow Suiryo for a conceptual interpretation since it is svalaksana.
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The Buddhist epistemology and logic must be understood within the background of the
philosophical import of these Zen stories. Buddhist scholars have translated the term
prapanca variously as verbal proliferation (Matilal 1986: 10.1) and thought distinct from
reality (Inada 1970:135). Verbal proliferation is nothing but conceptualization. However,
Kalupahana, while explaining the term, argues that Buddhism does not support the view that
reality is unspeakable and indefinable and he asserts that what Nagarjuna meant by the term
prapancott tam in Mulamadhyamakakorika 22.15 is aloofness from obsessions and hence
the term prapanca means obsession (Kalupahana 1996: 310). We need not quarrel about
the exact rendering of this term because all of them reveal the true import of Buddhist
philosophy: one who is free from verbal proliferations and conceptualizations is indeed free
from all kinds of obsessions linguistic, ethical, social, political, and religious. When one is
free from linguistic obsessions he cannot express reality in terms of a language since all
linguistic expressions are the product of some linguistic conventions or obsessions. In this
context, the scholarly interpretations are meaningless and reality is the experience of those
who have seen it. How much the folly and limitations of academe have misconstrued reality
is beyond words. It is svalaksana or thing-in-itself. Dr. Meenal rightly quotes
AbbiJbormosutro which Dinnaga referred to: one who says blue does not see the object
blue, because the object blue is thing-in-itself, the given in experience, the svalaksana,
discrete particular.
The original Sanskrit texts of many Dinnaga literatures have not been preserved; but they
are translated into Chinese and Tibetan languages. It is the Tibetan Buddhism that has
stressed the study of Dinnagas logic and epistemology more seriously than Indians.
Tsongkhapas Gelug School excels all other Tibetan Schools in this direction. It is also
worthwhile to note that Buddhist logic and epistemology is being taught not only in the
Tibetan Buddhist training schools but also in secular branches of learning. Tenzing Gyatso,
the present Dalai Lama, has stated that the Tibetan curriculum consists of Dinnagas
literature. He says that he had to memorize the Dinnaga, Dharmak rti and Nagarjuna
literature in his early educational period (Lama 2005: 45-74). Besides Indian scholars, the
Southeast Asian or East Asian Buddhist scholars are also apathetically approaching the
Buddhist logic.
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The first impression that I get from Dr. Meenals paper is that it provides a lucid
exposition of the Nyaya-Buddhist polemics on nirvikalpaka/savikalpaka perception. But the
very significant question whether it is Dinnaga or Naiyayika who first introduced the
distinction between nirvikalapaka and savikalpa in Indian philosophy has not even been
mentioned. Some scholars have opined that it has been the tendency since Dinnaga to discuss
perception in terms of this differentiation (Matilal 2005: 50). Dharmendra Nath Shastri
(1997:437), well-known scholar in Nyaya-Buddhist epistemology, explicitly stated that it is
first introduced by Dinnaga. But what was the necessity for Dinnaga for such a distinction if
he did not admit savikalpaka as pure perception but inference? If it is necessary in the
practical world, then why cant he admit simply its relevance in the perceptual sphere?
There are several ways by which a Buddhist tries to refute the universals to reach the
ultimate reality, the unique particular, the object of sensation. In the fifth chapter of his
magnum opus, Pramonasamuccaya, Dinnaga refutes the Naiyayika view of universals. He
argues that to say that a universal is to be apprehended by external sense organs is to say that
it must be located in space. If so, we must be able to speak where a universal is located. If it
is located wholly in a particular, then it cannot be true that it resides in a number of
particulars. If the universal resides partially in a particular, then it cannot be undivided. So
the universal cannot be an external sensible object. The only possibility of a universal is
therefore lies in its being as a concept. These conceptual constructions (kalpano) or
universals are thus not the objects of perceptual experience (Hayes 2009: 108).
Conceptual constructions are also to be construed by Dinnagas theory of apoha
according to which concepts are created through a process of exclusion or apoha. A child
does not have name before his names given ceremony. The moment name is given to a
child he becomes excluded from those who have no such names. This discriminative process
is thus a fiction, because even before the names given ceremony the child exists as an
individual. No sooner had he heard a name from the society than he felt the sense of an
identity. The remaining life of that child is with this identification a name, a fiction. A
Buddhist does not say that these fictions are unnecessary; they are useful in praxis. Dinnaga
and his followers insist that truth is not contained in these fictions; rather, we should reach
the state behind names and concepts. This pre-conceptual state is the object of perception
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called svalaksana, ultimate reality in Dinnagas philosophy. Here, we may change the Zen
koan What was your original face before your father and mother were born? into What
was your original name before you receive a name from your father and mother? There was
no such name. Hence all names are concepts.
Dr. Meenal has slightly mentioned the Buddhist doctrine of artha-kriyo-somarthya
which asserts that anything that exists entails the causal efficiency. This doctrine is
introduced in Buddhist logic by Dharmak rti, the disciple of Dinnaga, to distinguish objects
that really exist from illusory ones. A proper understanding of this theory will also shed light
on why conceptualization is rejected in Dinnagas logic of perception, for it reveals the
Buddhist principle that a non-momentary object cannot have any function either in
succession or in simultaneity.
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It is the svalaksana which is momentary in existence; it only
has the eternal present, namely, the here and now. Every pre-conceptual experience is
momentary and concepts are constructions of the mind and hence vitiated by all the
fluctuations of the mind.
Zen masters have the experiential conviction that only the objects have causal efficacy
and the concepts are oscillations in the outer layers of the mind. For this reason, the most
vital part of the training for a Zen novice is to learn how to get liberated from the pestering
mind. Zen Buddhism thus asserts the state of no-mind as the real goal whereby one is free
from all types of conceptual constructions.
Dr. Meenal says that Dinnaga gives a definition of perception in Pramonasamuccaya.
But, in fact, Dinnaga does not give a definition of perception per se (Vidyabhusana 2002:
277); however, he describes it as that which is free from conceptual constructions such as
proper name, class name, quality-name, action-name, or substance-name. For Dinnaga
anything which is explained in terms of these five mental constructions is not to be
hypostatized into a real entity. The definition for perceptual experience was not attempted by
Dinnaga because that would militate against his view of perception. Definition is impossible

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arthakriyosomarthyalaksanamatho vyovartam Vodanyoya of Dharmak rti I. 4, translated by Gokhale (1993: 5)

without the application of these five conceptual constructions and hence he kept aloof from
it.
The learned scholar says that the choice between Nyaya and Buddhism as the better
theory is to be counted by way of a conceptual decision. But there seem to be an attempt in
the paper to defend Dinnaga from empirical standpoint, because the paper observes that from
the empirical stance Buddhist philosophy in general, and Dinnaga in particular, have
accounted for the empirical fact of savikalpaka pratyaksa. Besides this, while explaining the
difference between Nyaya and Buddhist views on perception Dr. Meenal has rightly pointed
out that in Buddhism, nirvikalpaka pratyaksam is genuine perception and savikalpaka is
pseudo-perception; in Nyaya it is savikalpaka pratyaksam which is genuine and nirvikalpaka
is only a logical requirement. She has wisely indicated the problem here: if the Buddhist view
is correct, then savikalpaka is either inferential knowledge or not perceptual knowledge at
all. In the former case there would be the question of vyoptijnona, the ground of inference;
in the latter case, the question is related to the ontological status of the external world as to
whether it is real or unreal. Here the discussion seems to go awry since we do not have a
clear understanding of what these philosophers taught.
The problem lies in the non-understanding of mystical perception in Buddhist experience.
Dinnaga himself says that what apprehends in perception is the particular (svalaksana)
devoid of conceptual construction (kalpanopodham) and what apprehends in inference is the
universal (somonyalaksana) associated with conceptual construction. This indeed clarifies
the nature of perception as something mystical. Dinnaga should have conceded that logical
argumentation would fail to capture the reality. The frontier of logic and metaphysics is so
sensitive that upon which the Buddha kept silence many centuries back. Zen Buddhism
recognizes the living in the present which disavows all types of conceptual constructions. For
this reason, Zen masters respond spontaneously to the questions of their disciples and a Zen
discourse is always unstructured as the structure is nothing but attachment to a name, class,
and so forth. A spontaneous response needs deep attunement to the present; it is a mystical
perception. In Sho bo gcnzo , one of the classics of Zen Buddhism, master Dogen
emphatically pointed out that perception lies beyond the realm of the mind (Dogen 2007:
246). Zen perception is mystical which can be acquired by the practice of mindfulness in
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Zen monasteries.
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We can read the full version of this training in the Mahosatipatthona sutta
of Dt gha Nikoya.
The early Buddhist literatures like Nikoyas were composed by observing the logical
principles of non-contradiction and consistency. Majjhima Nikoya provides examples for this
where the Buddha refutes his opponents by indicating their contradictory and inconsistent
statements. By disclosing the contradictory position of the opponents the Buddha often
taught them to see and experience the truth for themselves. We are entrapped by the
contradictions and inconsistencies because we are ensnared by the conceptual constructions.
The Buddha uses the term seeing in the Nikoyas for what we call experience. For the
Buddha this seeing is knowing because, what is not seeing is conceptual which is not
knowing. Therefore, knowing-seeing is direct perception or mystical awareness. This
Buddhist epistemological approach has been enriched later by Nagarjuna by his radical
refutation of pramana theories and conceptual thinking. This has been developed by Dinnaga
and Dharmak rti in accordance with Yogacara philosophy.
The culmination of this Buddhist approach is to be found in Zen Buddhism where it
becomes fully praxis, a lived experience. Yaoshan, a Zen master, often prevented his students
from reading scriptures for the reason that it is through meditation and not by books one gets
enlightenment. One day, a disciple caught him while he was reading a Buddhist sutra.
Master, you have not allowed me to read scriptures. Now, you yourself are reading books!
Why did you do this? he asked. My eyes need to take rest somewhere, replied the master.
Well, but, my eyes too can have it, the disciple retorted. Of course, master said silently,
But your eyes will pierce the whole page.
Bodhidharma, the founding patriarch of Zen Buddhism, declares that Zen is a direct
transmission separate from the scriptures. Zen does not, however, deny the status of the
scriptures as the devices to access the reality. A Zen novice will later realize that scriptures
are nothing but fingers pointing to the reality.

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In modern times many Zen masters like Thich Nhat Hanh, Seung Sahn, and J ohn Daido Loori have been giving
classes on mindfulness training. Nhat Hanhs Engaged Buddhism is wholly based on mindfulness training and the
Buddhist notion of emptiness s unyata.
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When discussing the problem of error the paper observes that, sensation according to
Dinnaga is non-erroneous and the distinction of truth and falsity is not applicable to the
sensation. Here is a possibility of transcending the empirical constructs of good and bad.
Sensation is immediate experience. When a concept interferes this immediacy loses its
purity, svalaksana, and becomes the mediate experience. This mediate experience is the
realm of savikalpaka perception.
The paper rightly makes it clear that the svalaksana is a momentary bare particular. This
bare particular is otherwise known in Abhidharma philosophy as ksana. It points to the
Ksanabhanga-voda of early Buddhism. So, we may observe here that the philosophy of
perception in Dinnaga is a logical culmination of the Ksanikavoda and Anattavoda of early
Buddhism. Both the Anattavoda and s unyavoJa are based on the doctrine of Pratt tya
Samutpoda which is the original doctrine of the Buddha. So Dinnagas philosophy also must
be understood in the context of Pratt tya Samutpoda. Zen Buddhism is the scenario where we
find the practical applications of all these principles.

REFERENCES
Dogen, Eihei. (2007) Sho bo gcnzo , Translated by Hubert Nearman, Shasta Abbey Press,
California.
Gokhale, Pradeep P. (1993) Vodanyoya of Dharmak rti:The Logic of Debate, Sri Satguru,
Delhi.
Hayes, Richard. (2009). Sensation, Inference, and Language, in William Edelglass and J ay L.
Garfield, eds., Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, Oxford University Press, New
York.
Inada, Kenneth K. (1970) Nogorjuna: A Translation of His Mulamadhyamakakoriko with an
Introductory Essay, Hokuseido Press, Tokyo.
Kalupahana, David J . (1996) Mulamadhyamakakoriko of Nogorjuna: The Philosophy of the
Middle Way, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.
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Lama, Dalai. (2005) The Universe in a Single Atom: How Science and Spirituality Can Serve
Our World, Little, Brown, London.
Matilal, Bimal Krishna. (1986) Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of
Knowledge, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
______. (2005) Epistemology, Logic, and Grammar in Indian Philosophical Analysis, Oxford
University Press, New Delhi.
Shastri, Dharmenra Nath. (1997) The Philosophy of Nyoya-Vais esika and its Conflict with the
Buddhist Dinnoga School, Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, Delhi.
Vidyabhusana, Satis Chandra. (2002) A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Medieval and
Modern Schools, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.