The book is based primarily on the source material available in the Pali Canon, studied historically and philosophically inn the light of the
contemporary, earlier and later literary evidence related to the subject. The antiquity and authenticity of the material is vouchsafed by the literary,
linguistic, ideological, sociological, and historical evidence existing into Pali Canon itself. The book traces the origin of the theory of
knowledge and its development in early Buddhism-the Hinayana Buddhism of Pali Canon.
The book is divided into nine chapters. Chs. 1-3 conduct a survey of the historical background of the Buddhist theory of
knowledge-with special reference to Pali Canon. Chs. 4-5 explain the Buddhist attitude to Authority and Reason. Ch. 6-7 deal with Analysis and
meaning as well as Logic and Truth respectively. Ch. 8 discusses the role of Authority and Reason in Buddhism and shows that Buddha is neither
a traditionalist nor a rationalist in the strictly philosophical sense. Ch. 9 deals with the means and limits of knowledge and propounds a number of
theories: the theory of causation, perception, inference, empiricism, so on and so forth.
The book is documented with a Preface, List of Abbreviations, an Appendix, Chronological Table of Schools, Bibliography and
This work attracted the attention of European scholars as the name of Oldenberg is a sufficient guarantee of the value of its contexts.
The distinguished author has in this work demolished the skeptical theory of a solar Buddha put forward by M. Senart. He has sifted the legendary
elements of Buddhist tradition and has given the reliable residuum of facts concerning Buddha, shown that the cardinal tenets of the pessimism
which he preached are “the truth of suffering and the truth of the deliverance from suffering.” He has expounded the ontology of Buddhism and
placed the Nirvana in a true light. To do this he has gone to the roots of Buddhism in pre-Buddhist Brahmanism and has given to Indologists the
original authorities for his views of Buddhist doctrines in Excursus at the end of the work.
The present work forms an important contribution to the solution of a number of problems more in particular pertaining to the earliest
developments of Indian philosophy. In 1925 P. Tuxen observed that in any future exposition of the history of this philosophy two factors should
predominate: I. the relation of early Buddhism to Indian thought; 2. the correlation of the latter to the Indian science of grammar. In 1927 the
famous Russian Buddhologist Stcherbatsky made the significant statement that even after dark about the fundamental teachings of this religion
and its philosophy. At the current state of inquiry-thanks to the assiduous and penetrating efforts of many scholars in West and East-a good deal
of this ‘darkness’ has been dispelled. Yet, there are still various gaps in our knowledge to be filled. For one thing, even though we are at present
fairly well acquainted with the later developments of systematic Indian philosophy, there is still much uncertainty about the actual origin and
incipient formative stages, i.e. the ‘pre’history’ of its logical and epistemological and, to a less extent, of its linguistic aspects. For another, even
to-day too many misconceptions about the exclusively mystic and recondite nature of this philosophy continue to prevail, especially
non-professional circles. For the sphere of thought indicated by the collective name of ‘Indian Philosophy’ is extremely complex. Indeed, in
terms of the history of ideas, its chief attraction must be sought, not only in its spiritual and cultural unity or in the perennial truths of its
monistic-idealistic metaphysics, but rather in its rich diversity. For this is indicative of its long development including an ever deepening
confrontation with fundamental philosophical problems. This complexity has led to highly divergent value judgments on the part of Western
philosophers as well as professional scholars, mostly of an earlier generation. They included those who regarded the very term ‘Indian
philosophy’ as a ‘contradictio in adjecto’ and its teachings as vaguely indefinite displays of dreamy thoughts, lacking in clear-cut concepts and
proper definitions. However, other scholars were convinced that it had reached a very high standard of development. Stcherbatsky (e.g.) stated
that, in addition to its systems of empirical idealism and spiritual monism, it had produced an intricate logic and a remarkable epistemology and
that the principal lines of its development showed parallels with those of Western philosophy, including rationalism and empiricism. Even
thought valid objections may be adduced to the theory of ‘parallel development’, there are at present few doubts about the ‘high standard’. Among
other things, it is a fact that the consistent investigation of logical fallacies and contradictions, on the basis of exact canons of reason, form an
essential part of nearly all the systems, orthodox and heterodox. And, in the words of Faddegon, already in early Vaisesika we find a purely
theoretical attitude of mind and not ‘that craze for liberation’ which dominates nearly all forms of Indian thought…Rather, it is the theoretical
desire for a correct classification and system of definition. The variety of opinion, mentioned above, is to a large extent induced by the problems
of India, i.e. Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit, philosophical language which-as shown in a number of recent publications-is itself correlated to the
terminology and categories of the highly developed Indian science of grammar. Especially, the correct interpretation of the intricate technical
terminology presents many difficulties. In many cases, the same terms have different connotations, or altogether different meanings, within
different contexts and, historically, at the successive periods of their application. Indeed, already in ancient India, both the grammarians and the
philosophers were concerned with the problems of meaning and important works were written on this subject. Long before this happened in the
West, ‘semantics’ became a fundamental part of the Indian philosophical discipline. Thus, in addition to a careful historical consideration of the
semantic theories, only a meticulous textual analysis, on an extensive comparative basis, can produce valid interpretations of Indian philosophical
ideas in European languages which are both comprehensible and ‘intrinsic’. Moreover, to give adequate meaningful renderings of the difficult
texts, even a thorough grounding I modern philosophical analysis is nowadays an indispensable prerequisite.
A further problem which has engaged the attention of scholars is the exact position which early Buddhism occupied in the development of Indian
thought, the more so as it was regarded by some of them as a ‘foreign body’ in Indian philosophy. Moreover, they were of the opinion that the
purely philosophical quality of the Pali canon was surprisingly deficient. Again, Stcherbatsky stated that the Pali-school of Buddhologists
entirely overlooked the system of philosophy which is present on every page of the Pali canon. In his opinion, Buddhist authors played a leading
part in the development of Indian epistemology. This is certainly established for the later school of Dignaga and Dharmakirti and their followers.
Sstcherbatsky’s views are largely confirmed by the present work which is primarily concerned with the earlier period. Dr. Jayatilleke, who had
the privilege of being admitted to Wittgenstein’s classes, is that rare combination of accomplished philologist, historian and methodic
philosopher. His book goes far beyond the indication of its title. On the basis of a profound analysis of the relevant earlier and later texts as well
as a critical re-examination of the works of his predecessors in the field, he traces with great ingenuity and scholarly thoroughness the
epistemological foundations of Pali canonical thought, from the Vedic period onwards. His fully connected account sheds new light, not only on
the problems of the earlier period which have engaged the attention of scholars during the past forty years, but also on those of the later
developments. Moreover, with regard to the present day conflict of metaphysics versus logical and linguistic analysis, the book contains valuable
material which elucidates from the Indian point of view some of the basis problems of this conflict.
The origins of the Indian empiricist tradition and its development in Early Buddhism are largely unknown to Western scholarship, despite the fact
that T.W. Rhys Davids at a very early date compared Buddhism with Comtism and Radhakrishnan went so far as to say that ‘Early Buddhism was
positivist in its outlook and confined its attention to what we perceive’. However, modern Western thinkers, who have dipped into the literature
of Buddhism, have sometimes been struck by its analytical and positivist turns of thought. H.H. Price, who was the Wykeham Professor of Logic
at the University of Oxford, remarked that ‘there are indeed some passages in the early part of the Questions of King Milinda which have a very
modern ring, and might almost have been written in Cambridge in the 1920’s’. Aldous Huxley (i.e. of Brahman of the Upanishads) was neither
affirmed nor denied, but simply ignored as being meaningless and unnecessary. Their concern was with immediate experience, which, because of
its consequences for life, came to be known as “liberation” or “enlightenment”. The Buddha and his disciples of the southern school seemed to
have applied to the problems of religion that “operational philosophy” which contemporary scientific thinkers have begun to apply in the natural
sciences…Buddha was not a consistent operationalist; for he seems to have taken for granted, to have accepted as something given and
self-evident, a variant of the locally current theory of metempsychosis. Where mysticism was concerned, however, his operation-alism was
complete. He would not make assertions about the nature of ultimate reality because it did not seem to him that the corresponding set of
mystical operations would admit of a theological interpretation’.
Huxley’s qualification that ‘the Buddha was not a consistent operation-alist’ may not have been made had he been aware of the
epistemological basis and the nature of the Buddha’s positivism and had he not been misled by scholars to think that the Buddha had dogmatically
accepted the doctrine of rebirth from the prevalent tradition (v. Ch. VIII).
Our findings about the Early Buddhist theory of knowledge are based primarily on the source material afforded by the Pali Canon,
studied historically and philosophically in the light of the contemporary, earlier and later literary evidence bearing on the subject. The literary,
linguistic, ideological, sociological and historical evidence still points to the high antiquity and authenticity of the Pali Canon, although what we
learn from it about Early Buddhism may have to be supplemented and, perhaps, even modified at times in the light of what we can glean from the
other literary traditions of Buddhism. We may refer here to the recent opinion of a student of religion, Dr. Robert H. Thouless, who says that ‘it
seems more likely that Hinayana was Buddhism as originally taught and the Mahayana was a product of development and conventionalization’.
The present work seeks to evaluate the thought of the Pali Canon from a new point of view and in the light of new material. In it an
attempt is made to uncover the epistemological foundations of Pali Canonical thought. One of the main problems of epistemology is that of the
means whereby our knowledge is derived. In this work the questions pertaining to the means of knowledge known to, criticized in and accepted by
the Buddhism of the Pali Canon are fully discussed. A comprehensive survey of the historical background (Chs. I, II and III) was indispensable for
this purpose partly because this throws considerable light on the Buddhist theory of knowledge and also because part of the material for the study
of this background is to be found in the Canon itself.
Apart from the inquiry into the means of knowledge, a number of questions relating to the problem of knowledge have been dealt with.
Thus we have endeavoured to show the kind of logic adopted by the Buddhists in contradistinction to that of the Jains (Ch. VII). While
Wittgenstein’s imaginary tribes played hypothetical language games showing the various possibilities in the use of language, we find here actual
instances in which different systems of logic were employed in order to cope with certain conceptual situations. We have also investigated the
role of analysis, the theories of meaning and truth and the problem of the limits of knowledge, as they appear in the Canon.
The student of Indian philosophy should find here material pertaining to the ‘prehistory’ of systematic Indian logic and epistemology
and the origins of the Indian empiricist tradition. A student of Greek thought may be able to see in these pages some parallel developments to his
own field, as well as the differences. Of particular interest to the student of Western philosophy would be Chapters VI and VII dealing with
‘Analysis and Meaning’ and ‘Logic and Truth’ respectively, the anticipation of two theorems of the propositional calculus (Ch. VIII, sections
702-710), the theory of causation (Ch. IX, sections 758-782), the empiricism of the Materialists (Ch. II) and the Buddhists (Ch. IX).
I would express my gratitude to Dr. D.L. Friedman for patiently reading through this thesis and offering many valuable comments,
criticisms and suggestions. I am also grateful to him for introducing me to literature pertaining to this subject which I had failed to consult at the
time of writing my first draft. My thanks are also due to Professor A.L. Basham, who evinced an interest in this work and very kindly read through
the whole of Chapter III. I must also place on record my indebtedness to Professor O.H. de A Wijesekera of the University of Ceylon, from
whom I learnt the first lessons in research, and who encouraged me to work on this subject.
I am grateful to Mr. D.J. Kalupahana, my pupil and colleague who was kind enough to undertake the task of preparing the index and to
my wife and other colleagues and friends for assisting me with the proof-reading and advice. I must also thank the University of Ceylon, which
with the generous assistance of the Asia Foundation defrayed a small portion of the cost of this publication.
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