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N. Siva Senani
Prof. Shivarama Padikkal
HA724 - Assignment

On Deconstruction and Apoha

1. Introduction

This is a review of the article The Theory of Apoha and Deconstruction: A Note by
Prof. C. N. Ramachandran, but has moved quite a bit away from the format expected of a
review, mainly due to the depth of the concepts being juxtaposed and the shortness of the
Note. Prof. Ramachandrans starts with decolonization as the justification for the paper
(269): . . . to become free from cultural colonialism involves locating common elements and
concerns between hegemonic Western ideas/ideologies and the so-called traditional
ideas/idealogies of the post-colonial societies. Even to be aware of the fact that Kuntaka
analyses the literariness of a work as deeply and comprehensively as Jan Mukarovsky and
Cleanth Brooks is to take a step forward toward decolonization. By comparing the theory of
Apoha and Deconstruction, then, it is being shown that what materialized in France in 1967,
was a much discussed topic a millennium and half earlier in India and that therefore Indians
need not be in awe of the Western intellectuals.

Then, Prof. Ramachandran sets out the views of the santanadharmins or
tmavdins as Prof. Ramachandran describes them (a term borrowed
from Pandit

One is unable to access Pandit Ranganath Pathaks adarana Rahasya (Patna: Bihar
Rtrabha Pariad, 1958) quoted by Mishra (as the source for Mishras Diagram 1, p25). However
the schematic shown is remarkably similar to the summary provided in paragraph 108 (pp118-19) by
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Ranganath Pathak via Rajanish Kumar Mishra), mainly following Bhartrihari, followed by that
of antmavdins, that is the Buddhists. According to him (273), the Apoha theory of
meaning holds that the meaning of a word comes into existence due to fact that it is not
any other; that is, due to the difference between one object/idea and another. Words signify
differences and not objective truth. (A cow is what non-cows are not.). Then, he describes
four similarities between Apoha and Deconstruction (275-6):
a) Both are a result of reaction against hegemonic systems;
b) Buddhists have a concept called vikalpa, which in Prof. Ramachandrans
reading equals options, and this optionality of meanings lies at the core of the
Derridean differance.
c) Both view perception as something which includes perception of both presence
and absence: when we see a tree, we perceive both the presence of the tree and
the absence of the non-tree
d) Finally, language cannot ever convey the Truth because for Buddhists it makes
actually different things look similar; whereas for Deconstructionists like Paul de
Man, the figurative element is missed resulting in all readings being misreadings.

Finally, he concludes by stating that the decentering impulse against the
perceived Centre of Essence, God etc. on one hand and Brahma, Vak etc. on the other
hand is what is active in both Buddhist theories of language and deconstruction. While

Vasudeva Sastri Abhyankar in his Sanskrit upodgtha prolegomenon to the Sarvadaranasagraha
of Mdhavcrya, the source book for Mishra, Pathak and Abhyankar. Given that Pathaks book is
published in 1958, and Abhyankars in 1924, one might be tempted to say that the nomenclature was
actually borrowed from Abhyankar, but it would be unfair to pass such a remark without actually going
through Pathaks book. It might turn out that both might have a common source, or there might be an
attribution by Pathak. A common source is highly unlikely since the Sarvadaranasagraha was first
published in 1858 in Sanskrit, and its first English translation (by E. B. Cowell and A. B. Gough)
between 1874 and 1878 (Cowells Preface, vi). Abhyankars is the first known Sanskrit commentary of
this very popular text (the popularity is only from the latter half of the nineteenth century
manuscripts were rare earlier to the publication of the text). So much investigation into the source of
the terminology is carried out because the terminology and representation in Mishras Diagram 1 is
very appropriate and precise, and deserves to be widely disseminated (in the normal sense, not the
Derridean sense: for, precision is the darling of the metaphysicists, that santanadharmins surely
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there is nothing that is amiss in what Prof. Ramachandran says about apoha and
deconstruction, there is quite a bit left unsaid.

First and foremost, he take[s] it for granted that most of the theoretical positions of
Deconstruction are familiar to reader, and so touches them upon only briefly, in fact in only
one paragraph. A brief outline of deconstruction is then one natural task that might be
attempted. Secondly, Prof. Ramachandran does not touch upon a few aspects:
the application of concepts in literary criticism and translation
the difference between philosophy (which deconstruction amounts to) and a
concept, which is more of what apoha is
Apohas intimate relationship with inference as a means of knowing
The focus of deconstruction in removing the boundaries and foundations
Finally, the totally different result obtained by two systems which start similarly.

Finally, Prof. Ramachandran leaves a few Sanskrit verses untranslated, which need
to be translated. These three then are the points of departure. It is proposed to first present
deconstruction, first in the words of Derrida, and then as seen by followers and critics. In the
section after that, the background necessitating apoha is given: the problem of universals.
Then apoha is treated in somewhat more detail than in Prof. Ramachandrans paper, mainly
in order to lay the basis for the subsequent section, which reviews the similarities pointed
out by Prof. Ramachandran and also considers other relationships similarities or

Here, an explanation for the length of this paper might be in order. Apoha in all its
nuances is quite a vast subject; Dharmakrtis work Pramavrttika alone has 1,05,400
lokas in Tibetan as its commentaries, according to Rahul Sankrityayan (). Prof.
Ramachandran makes some valid remarks about apoha but without explaining them.
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Without explanations, an already anti-intuitive concept appears further irrational, or at any
rate incomplete. Hence the attempt here to provide sufficient background material, without
considering the length of the paper.

2. Deconstruction

In giving definitions, the safe practice would be to use the words of the original
thinker himself to the extent possible. The problem with such an approach is that Derrida will
not commit to a meaning, an interpretation of any word or concept, much less something as
overarching as deconstruction, if he can help it. It is indeed mostly in interaction with others,
when he has to abide by certain norms of expected social behaviour of not refusing such as
in interviews or letters, that he comes close to defining deconstruction. Thus, if we depend
on Derrida to define deconstruction for us, the way is to engage with his entire discourse; for
in performing these acts of obligation, he only touches for meaning can only be touched,
not grasped on what is deconstruction. Other definitions are what others think Derrida

Derrida talks about his general strategy of deconstruction in the interview (~1971)
with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta (Positions, 38-39). There he clearly spells
out that deconstruction has two phases: in the first, the objective is to reverse the hierarchy
of metaphysical binaries; in the second phase, a new concept emerges, which consolidates
the reversal, sometimes by using a paleonym
. Derrida says we must mark the interval

This is a typical Derridean portmanteau combining two or more words, or more usually parts of
words, to form a new word, like the nefarious advertorial combining paleo from the Greek palaios
meaning old or ancient (in fact, the term paleolithic along with neolithic, to distinguish the old stone
age and the new stone age was similarly coined by John Lubbock in the nineteenth century), and
nymy from the Greek onoma or onyma (compare with Sanskrit nma) meaning name. Paleonymy,
then, is to put old names to work in a different way, in a redefined way. Differance is the most famous
of Derridas paleonyms the difference in spelling is to show that this old name is now redefined.

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between inversion, which brings low what is high, and the irruptive emergence of a new
concept, a concept that can no longer be, never could be, included in the previous regime.
These binaries are many: male/female, white/black, father/son, essence/appearance,
intelligible/sensible, speech/writing, original/translation etc. A similar delineation of two
phases reversal and intervention of deconstruction is to be found (6) in the Outwork
his work, Dissemination. Here, we see deconstruction clearly as a reactionary move to
Platonic metaphysics, which for Derrida is the entire Western philosophical tradition from
Plato onwards.

Chronologically speaking, the next instance when Derrida is obligated to talk about
deconstruction is when a Japanese friend, Prof. Izutsu, intending to translate Derrida, asks
for some schematic and preliminary reflections on the word deconstruction. Derrida, in
good faith, starts at the beginning (Letter to a Japanese Friend):
When I chose the word, or when it imposed itself on me I think it was in Of
Grammatology . . . I wished to translate and adapt to my own ends the
Heideggerian word Destruktion or Abbau. Each signified in this context an
operation bearing on the structure or traditional architecture of the
fundamental concepts of ontology or of Western metaphysics. But in French
destruction too obviously implied an annihilation or a negative reduction
much closer perhaps to Nietzschean demolition than to the Heideggerian

In that exposition Derrida is keen that the Japanese translation avoid the negative
determination of the words significations and connotations. This concern, then, allows him

Another play of Derrida. For Derrida, what other call a preface is at once, impossible and
indispensible. So he titles it Hors livre, translated as Outwork by the translator. This book, famously,
starts with the sentence: This (therefore) will not have been a book. Compared to that Outwork is a
much milder subversion of received concepts of preface, book etc.

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to frame the question as: what deconstruction is not, or what it ought not to be. This turns
out to be a long list, as evidenced by the excerpts from the letter given below.
Deconstruction is neither an analysis nor a critique. . . .
Deconstruction is not a method and cannot be transformed into one. It
must also be made clear that deconstruction is not even an act or an
operation. . . .
Deconstruction takes place, it is an event that does not await the
deliberation, consciousness, or organization of a subject, or even of
modernity. It deconstructs itself. It can be deconstructed. . . .
All sentences of the type deconstruction is X or deconstruction is not X
a priori miss the point, which is to say that they are at least false. One of
the principal things at stake in what is called in my texts deconstruction
is precisely the delimiting of ontology and above all of the third person
present indicative: S is P. . . .
What deconstruction is not? everything of course!
What is deconstruction? nothing of course.

Derrida understands that he is not being very helpful, and so states explicitly
I recognize, my dear friend, that in trying to make a word clearer so as to
assist its translation, I am only thereby increasing the difficulties: the
impossible task of the translator (Benjamin). This too is meant by

This sentence, though, not related to a definition unfolds an important facet of the practice of
deconstruction, if one could use such a phrase. The refusal to pin down a meaning is not
deliberate; there is a deeper play: the text is autonomous, it is not the writer who controls
what the text means. Once he has committed, once he could no longer defer, he has to
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reinterpret afresh everytime he revisits. Or, he needs to deconstruct the limiting adjuncts that
were inevitable in the earlier uses of the word. The above sentence is Derrida, the regular
Joe, one who abides by common courtesies an ancient social contract, a paleanthropact
as Derrida might put it as opposed to Derrida, the philosopher, speaking. A friend, who
wants to be helpful, but simply cannot be. For, the tone of Derrida the philosopher, facing an
inquisition, as it were, is quite different
, as seen in the next definition that we consider.

At a later time (1989), Derrida says Deconstruction is generally practiced in two
ways or two styles, although it most often grafts one on to the other. One takes on the
demonstrative and apparently ahistorical allure of logico-formal paradoxes. The other, more
historical or more anamnesic, seems to proceed through readings of texts, meticulous
interpretations and genealogies. (Force of Law, 21). The second style, the historical
reading, can be found in Of Grammatology where the history of writing is meticulously
interpreted. The paradox or aporia
examined in Force of Law is the distinction between
justice . . . and the exercise of justice as law or right, legitimacy or legality, stabilizable and
statutory, calculable, a system of regulated and coded prescriptions. (Force of Law, 22).
The aporia is explained thus by Derrida:
Everything would still be simple if this distinction between justice and droit

were a true distinction, an opposition whose functioning was logically

Different, but kind, nonetheless. For such a consummate master of the language, for whom each
word manifests itself in its complete historicity, from its etymology to metaphorical usage to becoming
a receptacle of many assumptions to the possibility of it being a paleonym, Derrida never seems to
use this mastery to hit back using language. Adverse critics would say his deconstruction is cruel
enough. That is exactly what this admirer of his use of language wants to say: Derrida does not
use harsh language to hit back.

Impasse would be etymologically the closest to aporia, which is from the Greek poros passage. The
equivalent in Indian languages would be agamya, impassable. With Derrida, tracing etymologies is
very useful, and sometimes illuminating.

French for law and right. Derrida begins this Keynote address at the colloquium on Deconstruction
and the Possibility of Justice (Oct. 1989, Cardoso Law School, New York) by playfully suggesting
that he, a Frenchman being asked to speak in English, however fluent he be in English, is not just.
His words are Cest ici un devoir, je dois madresser vous en anglais This is an obligation, I must
address myself to you in English. As it turned out he could not read the entire paper for lack of time.
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regulated and permitted mastery. But it turns out that droit claims to exercise
itself in the name of justice and that justice is required to establish itself in the
name of a law that must be enforced. Deconstruction always finds itself
between these two poles. (Force of Law, 22)

This definition of deconstruction is baffling at first. One is prepared to view
deconstruction as a philosophy, or as a method of reading, but deconstruction is not
something which one associates with questions of law and justice. This aspect was not lost
on Derrida, who said:
Although Ive been entrusted with the formidable honor of the keynote
address, I had nothing to do with the invention of this title or with the implicit
formulation of the problem. Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice: the
conjunction and brings together words, concepts, perhaps things that dont
belong to the same category. A conjunction such as and dares to defy
order, taxonomy, classificatory logic, no matter how it works: by analogy,
distinction or opposition. . . . This title suggests a question that itself takes the
form of a suspicion; does deconstruction insure, permit, authorize the
possibility of justice? Does it make justice possible, or a discourse of
consequence on justice and the conditions of its possibility? Yes, certain
people would reply; no, replies the other party. Do the so-called
deconstructionists have anything to say about justice, anything to do with it?
Why, basically, do they speak of it so little? Does it interest them, in the end?
Isnt it because, as certain people suspect, deconstruction doesnt in itself
permit any just action, any just discourse on justice but instead constitutes a
threat to droit, to law or right, and ruins the condition of the very possibility of
justice? . . . That is the choice, the either/or, yes or no that I detect in this

The second part was read at a Conference on Nazism and the Final Solution: Probing the Limits of
Representation organized by the University of California (USA) in April 1990.
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title. To this extent, the title is rather violent, polemical, inquisitorial. We may
fear that it contains some instrument of torture that is, a manner of
interrogation that is not the most just. (Force of Law, 3-4).

Derrida answers these questions obliquely. In his own words, he shows that (14-15)
It is this deconstructible structure of law (droit), or if you prefer of justice as
droit, that also insures the possibility of deconstruction. Justice in itself, if
such a thing exists, outside or beyond law, is not deconstructible. No more
than deconstruction itself, if such a thing exists. Deconstruction is justice. . . .
deconstruction takes place in the interval that separates the
undeconstructibility of justice from the deconstructability of droit (authority,
legitimacy, and so on).

Derridas view on what deconstruction is may be found in his deconstructive reading
of Rousseaus essay On the Origin of Languages, in Of Grammatology. There (158), Derrida
in a section called The Exorbitant. Question of Method brings up the question of the usage
of the word supplement and says that the question is not only of Rosseaus writing, but
also our reading. This reading is identified as the deconstructive reading by Peter Barry
(69), according to whom, Derridas own definition of deconstruction would be:
[Deconstructive] reading must always aim at a certain relationship,
unperceived by the writer, between what he commands and what he does not
command of the patterns of the language that he uses. . . . [It] attempts to
make the non-seen accessible to sight.

Both Barry (68-69) and Abrams and Harpham (73-74) cite Barbara Johnsons
Deconstruction is not synonymous with destruction. . . . The deconstruction
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of a text does not proceed by random doubt or arbitrary subversion, but by
the careful teasing out of warring forces of signification within the text itself. If
anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the
claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over another.

Finally, some glimpses of what Derrida later said about deconstruction can be found
in Deconstruction: A Users Guide edited by Nicholas Royle. In Royles essay What is
Deconstruction, the least bad definition of deconstruction, according to Derrida, is said to
be the experience of the impossible (Derrida, Afterw.rds: or, at least, less than a letter
about a letter less, trans. Geoffrey Bennington, in Afterwords, ed. Nicholas Royle. Tampere,
Finland: Outside Books, 1992, 200. Qtd. in Royle, 6). Royle also gives (10) a constantive
statement about deconstruction by Derrida:
Deconstruction is neither a theory nor a philosophy. It is neither a school nor
a method. It is not even a discourse, nor an act, nor a practice. It is what
happens, what is happening today in what is called society, politics,
diplomacy, economics, historical reality, and son on and so forth.
Deconstruction is the case. I say this not only because I think it is true and
because I could demonstrate it if we had time; but also to give an example of
a statement. (Derrida Some Statements and Truisms about Neo-Logisms,
Newisms, Postisms, Parasitisms, and other Small Seismisms. Trans. Anne
Tomiche, in The States of Theory: History, Art and Critical Discourse, ed.
David Carroll, 1990. pp. 63-95, p. 85).

In the same book, Derrida writes an essay Et cetera, where he writes (300):
Each time that I say deconstruction and X (regardless of the concept or the
theme), this is the prelude to a very singular division that turns this X into, or
rather makes appear in this X, an impossibility that becomes its proper and
sole possibility, with the result that between the X as possible and the same
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X as impossible, there is nothing but a relation of homonymy, a relation for
which we have to provide an account. For example, here referring myself to
demonstrations I have already attempted gift, hospitality, death itself (and
therefore so many other things) can be possible only as impossible, as the
im-possible, that is, unconditionally.

It is best to end the search for a definition of deconstruction, by quoting in full the
dictionary entry
suggested by Royle (11).
deconstruction n. not what you think: the experience of the impossible: what
remains to be thought: a logic of destabilization always already on the move
in things themselves: what makes every identity at once itself and different
from itself: a logic of spectrality: a theoretical and practical parasitism or
virology: what is happening today in what is called society, politics,
diplomacy, economics, historical reality, and so on: the opening of the future

Most of the above, in a way, do not define deconstruction, as much practice the
construction of what Derrida terms constantive statements. The problem is that admirers of
Derrida tend to give similar constantive statements; whereas critics give definitions which

Royles article is styled as a letter to the Editor of Chambers dictionary criticizing negatively the entry
on deconstruction. There he touches upon not only Chambers but also definitions in various versions
of the Oxford English Dictionary. Hence, at the end he gives what a dictionary entry might look like.
Royle ends his piece with the following: It will be obvious to you by now that I cannot send this. I ask
myself: what would it mean to suppose that a letter like this could reach its destination? I ask you,
dear, anonymous reader. A dictionary represents common consensus, to the extent such a
consensus is possible. A dictionary works in a certain mode: the user of a dictionary expects his
problem to be solved, his quest for meaning to end. Royles letter cannot be sent for both these
reasons. First, it is not upto Derrida or his admirers to fix meaning; meaning is what readers
understand (perform, if one has to sound suitably Theoretical). Deconstruction, then, means what
Chambers and Oxford English Dictionary present it as. Second, Royles suggested entry does not
simplify, it is, to borrow a term from the Telugu play Kanyulkam, deconstruction-made-difficult.
Such entries would make dictionaries disappear. In simple terms, nobody would pay hard-earned
money to be confused. So the Editor would be doubly justified in rejecting the letter and Royle knows
that, and wants the reader to know. This, then, is the essence of Derridean thought: Language
distorts, but is our only tool.

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the admirers say is incomplete or incorrect. Then, one will try to present ones own
understanding of what deconstruction is, whatever be its label. First, it is post-metaphysical
and does not believe that something necessarily is. Second, due to this, it holds that
meaning, to the extent that it can be related, is based on differences, in space and time, and
is limited by context, the various constructs that the writer, without knowing it himself,
utilizes. Third, even if the writer were aware, he cannot avoid these constructs of structures
which limit meaning and the best he can do is, be aware. Therefore, everything is
provisional, and every reading produces a new meaning. In this sense, language is self-
referential; every new performance changes the meaning. Fourth, one usual consequence
of undoing the constructs is that foundations ontological, epistemological, theological etc.
of a given writers writing are undone, exposing the absurdity of his final positions. This
applies only to writings of those who subscribe to foundational theories. Deconstruction
itself, therefore, does not subscribe to any foundational theories, nor does deconstruction
claim to be a foundational theory. Fifth, since differences, rather differances are the basis, if
one could call it that, of meaning, translation, which often negotiates these differances, is a
mode in which the original is best understood. Sixth, not only original/translation, but many
other binaries are overturned by deconstruction by exposing their inherent invalid
assumptions; thus, the absent is as important as the present, sometimes more so. Seventh,
another way to look at the apparent stability of meaning is by understanding the structure of
representation. Each discourse builds its structure around a centre; say, Metaphysics
around Being, Vedanta around Brahman, and Nationalism around India. The centre is, in
reality, not the centre but posited at the centre for the limited purpose of some situations
initially. In due course, the limitedness of the purpose is lost on the writers and occasions
deconstruction, which really de-constructs the centeredness. In that sense, a deconstructed
world view or depiction is decentered, and since it is decentered, what was earlier marginal
is no longer marginal. Finally, deconstruction happens not merely in philosophy or literature,
but everywhere, in all discourses; for, language is the only tool we have to communicate,
and language operates only when we can no longer defer; it operates with certain
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assumptions, yet, without the user being aware of those assumptions; and after
deconstruction those assumptions manifest in aporias, unresolvable and unjustified.

3. An Ontological Problem

How to define something that is not? That is an ontological problem. Hiedegger
faced this problem while trying to define Nihilism. As quoted (xiv) in Gayatri Chakravorty
Spivaks Translators Preface to her translation of Derridas Of Grammatology,
. . . Heidegger, establishing a definition, philosophically confronts the problem
of definitions : in order for the nature of anything in particular to be defined as
an entity, the question of Being in general must always already be broached
and answered in the affirmative. That something is, presupposes that any-
thing can be. . . . "The 'goodness' of the rightfully demanded 'good definition'
finds its confirmation in our giving up the wish to define in so far as this must
be established on assertions in which thinking dies out. ... No information can
be given about nothingness and Being and nihilism, about their essence and
about the ( verbal ) essence [it is] of the ( nominal ) essence [it is] which can
be presented tangibly in the form of assertions [it is . . .]."

A similar problem presents itself with reference to universals for the Nominalists.
Universals refer to the commonality of common nouns, say, a cow, or a tree. How do we
know that certain animals are cows, and others are not? According to Realists, which group
includes Plato and Aristotle on one hand, and Naiyyikas and Mmsakas on the other
hand, universals exist. That is, there is something called cowness, or treeness which is to be
found only in cows or trees. Now, treeness has to be a single entity, which exists in all trees.
When a tree is cut, the treeness itself is not cut. The Nominalists, which group includes
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Roscelin and Heidegger on the one hand, and some Indian Grammarians and Buddhists on
the other hand, pose a theoretical question: what happens when all the individual cows in
the world are dead? Would there be still something called a cowness? If it is there, obviously
it is not associated with cows, because there are not any cows left. Now, how can
something which is not associated with cows be the universal, cowness which defines all
cows? It is not sufficient if they reject universals, they need to come up with an explanation
of the empirical reality: that all speakers seem to understand the universal cowness:
everybody knows what is a cow, and what is not. The question, then, is: how to define
something, that is not?

The Buddhist doctrine of apoha, first put forth by Dinga and later developed by
Dharmakrti, ntarakita, Kamalala, Jnarmitra and Ratnakrti, is regarded as an
epistemological resolution of an ontological problem according to Bimal Krishna Matilal (15)
in his introductory essay Buddhist Logic and Epistemology in the eponymous anthology. The
resolution happens thus, in Matilals words:
We need not accept universals as real and distinct entities . . . Our ability to
use the same term to denote different individuals presupposes our knowledge
or awareness of sameness or similarity or some shared feature in those
individuals. This shared feature may simply be our agreement about what
these individuals are not, or what kinds of terms cannot be applied to them.
This is a cow denies simply such predicates as cannot be predicated of the
object in question.

With this theory of meaning, Nominalists can meaningfully talk about universals, without
conceding the existence of universals. We find a similar construct in Saussure (120):
In language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference
generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in
language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take
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the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that
existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic
differences that have issued from the system.

At the surface, this would make apoha and structuralism similar. What really sets
them apart is the larger goal they serve. The Buddhist notion of apoha, appearing as it did
almost 800 years after Buddha, was a concept expounded to resolve the ontological
problem. Saussure was not so committed a Nominalist. As Derrida shows in the second
chapter of Of Grammatology, Saussures preference for speech over writing, his
phonocentrism, is related to logocentricsm, which for Derrida is the metaphysics of phonetic
writing (for example, of the alphabet) which was fundamentally - for enigmatic yet essential
reasons that are inaccessible to a simple historical relativism - nothing but the most original
and powerful ethnocentrism, in the process of imposing itself upon the world, controlling in
one and the same order (Grammatology, 3). In other words, assuming at the center, an
invariable presence, what Derrida says is represented by eidos, arch, telos, energeia,
ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject) altheia, transcendentality, consciousness,
God, man and so forth (Writing and Difference, 353). Thus, the same concept of meaning
being established through differentials in the hands of Derrida for whom, a Presence if it
were there, could not be grasped fully was much nearer to apoha. The beliefs of Derrida
regarding the ultimate are difficult to pin down, but this writer has a notion that they are
somewhat similar to the Buddhist nya, which so mistakenly gets translated as nothing,
portraying the Buddhists as nihilists.

4. Apoha

Dinga (A.D 480 540) is the first proponent of the concept of apoha in his work,
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the Pramasamuccaya, a Sanskrit work which is available only in fragments in Sanskrit,
and more fully in its Tibetan translation
. There, he treats knowledge obtained through
language as a part of inference, a variety called svrthnumna, i.e., inference drawn for
oneself. The fifth chapter of Pramasamuccaya, dealing with apoha, opens with this verse.
na pramntara abdam anumnt tath hi tat |
ktakatvdivat svrthamanypohena bhate || 1 ||
(Knowledge through word is not different from inference. Just like inference, a
word speaks of its object (artham, which also means meaning) by excluding
the others, like in the case of manufacturedness. [Any object is held to be
transient, if it has manufacturedness because manufacturedness excludes

Dinga views language as a system of signs, not an especially Buddhist concept.
Further, the signified is not the actual object, such as a tree, but a mental construct, a
vikalpa, again not an exclusive Buddhist view
. The masterstroke or exclusively Buddhist

Tibetan translations are so accurate that it is often possible to reconstruct the Sanskrit original from
the Tibetan. It is significant that for a concept being compared to deconstruction (which liberates
translations), apoha is primarily available through translation, because the translation was very

The krik is quoted in Mishra (104, footnote 33). The translation of Mishra, traceable to Richard P.
Hayes, was avoided as it was more appropriate in the context of a discussion of logic. Also it misses
the aptness of both the meanings of artham.

Both can be found in Bharthari, for instance, kriks 3, 5 and 6 in the Sdhanasamuddea of
Padaka of the Vkyapadya, reproduced below with the translations of this writer:

sdhanavyavahraca buddyavasth nibandhana |
sannasanvrtharpeu bhedo buddhy prakalpyate || 3 ||
Sdhana, here, means the instrumentality through which grammar operates, that is division of things
into subject, object, instrument etc. so that an appropriate case (vibhakti) can be assigned to each
sdhana, that is each thing divided into subject, object etc. Such a system of treating things like
agent, object etc. (or division into subject and predicate) is called sdhanavyavahra. This
sdhanavyavahra is tied to the things situated in the mind; whether they be actually present or not in
the real world, their analysis into subject, object etc. is mentally fashioned. (The next krik gives an
example of the usage the people of Pcla are more beautiful than the Kurus in which construct,
first the two peoples are imagined to be together, and are then divided on the basis of beauty by
using the ablative case [than]).

abdopahitarpca buddherviayat gatn |
Nori 17 / 40
innovation is to make the theory of meaning a particular application of inference. Buddhist
inference works on the basis of elimination. Thus, evidence of smoke would rule out places
like lakes, in fact every situation where there is no fire, till one arrives at the inevitable
conclusion that there is fire. Here the signifier smoke excludes other situations and settles
upon the intended signified fire. Similarly, the word for tree such as vka rule out all mental
constructs of non-tree, till we arrive at the inference that the signified is the mental construct,
tree. In other words, meaning is established based on difference.

The important thing is that this theory of meaning helps avoid the necessity to admit
the existence of anything to use language. For the Buddhist, everything is in the state of a
flux; the tree that one sees in front today is not the same tree one saw yesterday, nor the
same one, one might see tomorrow. Why? There might be some leaves which fell today,
tomorrows tree might have a bud which is not there today. In fact, if we follow this kind of
thinking to its logical end, we will arrive at the conclusion that tree of the last instant is not
the tree of the present instant, for, surely some mitochondria is at work, converting energy
and therefore changing the tree. Therefore, the tree at a given instant is exactly like itself
and is not similar to the tree at an earlier instant or a later instant. Thus, the four tenets of
Buddhism are given as sarvam kaika kaikam, dukha dukham, svalakaa
svalakaam, nya nyam (1) All is momentary, momentary; (2) all is pain, pain; (3) all

pratyakamiva kasdn sdhanatvena manyate || 5 ||
The Bhyakra [Patanjali] considers Kamsa and others, who are actually mental constructs given
form by words, as if they were directly perceived, as sdhana. [This has reference to the Pinian
aphorism hetumati ca 3-1-26 which describes the application of causative affix ic. There, Ktyyana,
the vrttikakra, adds the instance of story telling, such as the one about Krishna killing Kamsa, as a
situation where ic is to be applied as Kamsa and others are not present as sdhana for ic affix to
be applied. The bhyakra Patanjali differs with Ktyyana, and Bharthari gives the justification: for
Patanjali, Kamsa and others, though mental constructs, are to be treated as if they were directly
perceived.] The larger idea here is that language operates with reference to mental constructs, not
actual things.

buddhipravttirpaca samropybhidhtbhi |
artheu aktibhedn kriyate parikalpan || 6 ||
Further, the mental construct is imposed upon external objects by the speakers, and the conceptual
differentiation of potentials (to be subject, object etc.) is being done.

Nori 18 / 40
is like itself alone; all is void, void. (Cowell, 15) in the Hindu doxographical work
Sarvadaranasagraha. The nya, at least according to Nagarjuna the great Buddhist
philosopher, ought not to be understood as nothingness or void, notwithstanding the above
translation, but as something between a positive entity and a negative entity, exactly in the
position that a zero has in the system of natural numbers. That is, Nagarjuna is not willing to
deny the existence of anything, though he believes that the ultimate is empty or hollow. It is
in this context, that Dinga developed the concept of double negation to arrive at a theory
of meaning. When we say that a tree is that which is not a non-tree, we can talk about tree
without admitting its existence, or ultimate reality. At surface, this double negation looks like
an elaborate way of saying exactly the same thing as a tree. Siderits (344) gives a good
explanation of why it is not so. Consider polite and impolite, two mutually exclusive terms;
then let us add not-impolite. This category of not-impolite is not the exact equivalent of
polite. For example somebody is addressed informally, rather very familiarly. Would we call
that polite? No. Is it impolite? No. So there is something which is neither polite, nor impolite
this thing is captured in not-impolite, but not in polite.

This exclusion theory of meaning apoha thus helps deny the existence of
universals while explaining the common use of language. For the Buddhist, if the existence
of universals is admitted, one way or the other, it would lead to admitting the existence of
some ultimate being, named god or soul or whatever, which he denies. In a sense, Derrida
had the same problem with the Husserlian Essence and Heideggerian Being, as apoha had
with universals, and arrived at a similar ontology though he denies that deconstruction is
based on such an ontology. Derridians might be more comfortable calling that the non-
ontology of Derrida in the sense that he merely disagrees with the ontology of the

Nori 19 / 40
Prof. Ramachandran quotes a krik of Dinga as the major statement of apoha,
without giving the meaning. Both the krik and meaning are given below for the sake of
of Dingas treatment of apoha:
vikalpayonaya abd vikalp abdayonaya |
kryakraat temartha abdaspyantyapi ||

The cause of words is mental constructs (vikalpa) and mental constructs are
based on words. Hence there is a cause-effect relationship between these
two. Words do not touch the ultimate reality.

There is another important pair of kriks, 12 and 13 in Apohapark (Chapter V of
the Pramasamuccaya) dealing with completeness of signification, which is important
when we compare apoha with deconstruction. These are available only in the Tibetan, and
so the translation of Hayes (353) of the same is given:
That to which a verbal sign is applied has many properties, only some of
which are made known through the verbal sign. The verbal sign merely
serves to isolate what it expresses from other properties; it also isolates the
particular to which the word is applied from particulars that do not have the
property isolated by the verbal sign. A verbal sign also has numerous
properties, but it is significant only in virtue of those properties of the sign that
are restricted to the object expressed.

In the Indian tradition, it is the commentators task to provide such supplements, which the original
author might have omitted as it is obvious is the usual sympathetic explanation.

According to Mishra (134), this verse was first quoted in full by Dr. Srinivas Shastri in his Vcaspati
Mira dvra Bauddha Darana k Vivecana (Discussion of Buddhism through Vacaspati Misra)
Kurukshetra: 1968. 27 based on the Nyyavrttikattparyak of Vcaspati Mira. This writer was
unable to trace it in the edition of the text published in 1898 as Vol. XIII of the Vizianagaram Series
under the editorship of Mahmahopdhyya Gangadhara Sastri Tailanga, but it does not materially
effect the presentation on Apoha.

Translation given in Mishra (134). The last sentence could also be rendered as words merely touch
meaning, making them so Derridean, but one hesitates to posit that without going through the
complete context carefully. Artham translated as ultimate reality above could also equally well be
translated as external objects; but, these other interpretations do not result in any significantly
different reading.

Nori 20 / 40

As per Dingas system only direct perception can give complete knowledge of an
object and inference always omits some particulars. Thus, when fire is inferred from smoke,
the fuel used, or the intensity of fire cannot be properly gauged. Similarly, words, or verbal
signs from which is inferred the meaning, do not express all the properties, or all the
details, of a given thing. The same is expressed slightly differently by Ole Pind (67):
The sign, whether it is the inferential indicator (liga, hetu) or the word
(abda), does not primarily concern that particular indicator and indicated or
that particular word and signified object, but the invariable relationship
(avinbhva, sahabhva, sambandha) that holds between any occurrence of,
for example, smoke and fire, or of substance (dravya) and existence (satt),
or between any occurrence of, for example, the word cow (goabda) and
the signified object cow (go). Thus, the indicator or the word is the type and
not the token or occurrence. Things are only definable in relation to their type.
The bare individuals, that is, particulars (svalakaa), remain outside the
reach of signs.

Extending this, we could say that verbal signs do not express all the possible
meanings; that in a given instant, other accompanying aspects determine the meaning that
becomes expressed. Now when we compare this to the position of Derrida that meaning is
inherently unstable, that there is an endless chain of self-referentiality, and that therefore a
word will never capture the complete meaning, we see that both Dinga and Derrida arrive
at the same position: that words are inadequate and their meaning is never complete. As
shall be shown in a later section, the position is similar, but the route to the position and the
end which this position serves is different.

Of the developments in the concept of apoha, Dharmakrti in his unfinished
commentary called Pramavrttika has provided the most important extensions. The
Nori 21 / 40
apoha theory has been much expanded upon in later times: on the one hand, it was
criticized by Nyya and Mms schools, apart from Jain scholars and other Buddhist
scholars as well; on the other hand, it was defended by many Buddhist scholars. Most of the
developments post Dharmakrti are polemical in nature, and at least as far as the topic at
hand is concerned, not very relevant. John D. Dunne (85) gives a succinct summation of the
various Buddhist authors who treated apoha.

Digngas formulation of the apoha-theory was explicitly criticized by the
Naiyyika philosopher Uddyotkara (fl. 525) and by the Buddhist thinker
Bhvaviveka (fl. 530), who developed a similar theory of his own. Digngas
thought including the apoha-theory receives a significant reworking at the
hands of Dharmakrti, and it is his reformulation that forms the basis for all
subsequent treatments, whether Buddhist or non-Buddhist. Among Buddhist
thinkers, the earliest commentarial layer consists of works by
Devendrabuddhi [fl. 675] and kyabuddhi [fl. 700], and while they propose
some innovations, their interpretations do not range far from Dharmakrtis
works. Thinkers such as ntarakita (d. 787) and Kamalala (fl. 765)
incorporate Dharmakrtis philosophy into Mdhyamika perspective, but the
details of his prama theories are not significantly revised. However, by the
time the later commentators such as Jnarmitra (fl. 1000), Ratnakrti (fl.
1025), Karakagomin (fl. 975), and Mokkaragupta (fl. 1100), a general
trend toward ever greater realism about universals becomes evident. In Tibet,
realist interpretations gain momentum, and in some cases receive criticism,
at the hands of numerous prominent thinkers . . . .Since the presentation
given in this chapter focuses on the earliest layer of interpretation, it may
appear to conflict with the more realist approaches of some later Buddhist
authors, but the general contours and mechanics of the theory will
nevertheless remain the same.
Nori 22 / 40

Thus, for the purposes of this paper, it would be useful to state the essence of Dharmakrtis
treatment of apoha without noticing the further details of the later, largely, polemical
. Before proceeding with the presentation of apoha as propounded by
Dharmakrti, the meaning of the verse quoted by Prof. Ramachandran as giving the view of
Dharmakrti regarding apoha might as well be provided.
tasy yadrpambhti bhyamekamivnyata | (not yadrpamvibhti)
vyvttamiva nistattva pariknagabhvata || 3.77 ||
(not vyvittim nistattva parkbhagabhavata ||)
That which appears as a definite form cow is produced by the external
object and conceptual construct in our intellect which is identical with the
class cow and differential with the non-cow. This is not real at the
transcendental level but after examining them we find nothing. (Mishra,

This is indeed a major statement of apoha theory by Dharmakrti, but a satisfactory
explanation would require quite a lengthy treatment, which shall be provided. For

For instance, in the lokavrttika, Kumrila Bhatta denounces apoha in 176 kriks, compared to
the 52 kriks that Dinga used to expound apoha (Ganganath Jha, 295-328). To this, ntarakita
responds in 355 kriks (867 to 1212 in Ganganath Jhas (ed.) The Tattvasagraha of ntarakita
with the Commentary of Kamalala, 2 vols., qtd. in Mishra (114, fn 67).This work was in turn criticized
by Vcaspati Mira and Jayanta Bhatta, and in return we have the Buddhist scholar Ratnakrti
composing an entire work devoted to apoha, the Apohasiddhi.

According to Mishra (134, fn 114) The full verse is quoted by Dr. Srinivas Shastri in his Vcaspati
Mira dvr Bauddha Darana K Vivecana, Kurukshetra: 1968, pp. 213 fn. 27. However this verse
is indeed quoted (with the corrections indicated above in the text) as No. 78 in Rahul Sankrityayans
version of Pramavrttikam published in 1943 by Kitab Mahal, Allahabad. ( |
9 1 17

c + +
, , ). The k of Karakagomin is given here
in Sanskrit for the sake of completion of reference. Translation is avoided because the following
material in the text amounts to an explanatory translation of the same anyhow. 1 1 1 1c +@
T~ |q H H H H 19 7 7 7 7

@F1|c @F

1 1 1 1 1
q |Hq |Hq |Hq |Hq H |Hq |Hq |Hq |Hq |Hq H 9ccc
@9 F711 9 c
Nori 23 / 40
Dharmakrti, for something to be real, it must have causal powers, an ability to fulfill a telic
function (he calls this property arthakriykritva); rest is unreal, or held to be real only from a
point of view of convenience. In Pramavrttika III.3, he writes:

arthakriysamartha yat tad atra paramrthasat |
anyat savtisat prokta te svasmnyalakae ||3.3||
Where we have causal powers, there we have the ultimate reality; others are
called existent only from the point of view of convenience. These two are
(respectively) particulars and universals.

The next step is the postulation that particulars can be cognized only by direct
perception while universals are the object of inference, of which language is a special case.
In this view, perception is always non-conceptual, that is one gets the full details of the
object observed when perceiving it directly, without the superimposition of any mental
constructs upon that. In contradistinction, inference is conceptual, it refers to kalpans or
mental constructs. Further perception is always non-conceptual, whereas knowledge
obtained through inference and language is always conceptual. A concept, kalpan, for
Dharmakrti as abhilpasasargayogyatpratibhs pratti kalpan a concept is a cognition
with a phenomenal appearance that is capable of being conjoined with linguistic expression
(Dunne, 87). This has led Potter to (47) to state: what is sensed (the pure particular)
cannot be thought or spoken of, and what is spoken or thought of doesnt really exist. Such
a position throws up the problem how language is to be at all used, if language is totally
delinked from the real objects of the world, what Tom Tillemans refers (50) to as the
scheme-content separation. Tillemans goes on to propose two approaches to fill the
scheme-content gap, a top-down approach and a bottom-up approach. The top-down
approach is the approach of double negation, that a cow refers to everything which is not a
non-cow. The bottom-up approach is called a a causal theory of relation by Tillemans and
explained in the following passage (56):
Nori 24 / 40
An apoha-universal U can be said to be a property of particulars p1, p2, p3,
etc. because: (1) the thought of U is causally conditioned by tendencies
imprinted on the mind by direct perceptions of p1, p2, p3, etc., these
perceptions being in turn causally linked to p1, p2, p3, etc. (2) the mind can
not distinguish between its own invented universal U imputed to entities and
the entities themselves (which are particulars and actually lack U).

This imputation, or the identification of an object with a previously experienced object (such
as the person being seen now and the person that was seen one year ago
) is called
avidy by Dharmakrti vikalpa eva hy avidy (Dunne, 99). This is how Dunne explains how
a concept such as fire can be applied non-randomly to a only some objects (90).

one constructs a sameness for a class of objects on the basis of their
difference from other objects. The warrant for the construction is that every
object is in fact completely unique in its causal capacities or telic function
(arthakriy). In the construction of a sameness that applies to certain objects,
however, one focuses on a subset of causal capacities that are relevant to
ones telos or goal (artha), and one thus ignores other capacities that
distinguish even the objects we call fire from each other. The sameness
applies to all fires is thus, strictly speaking, a negation: it is the exclusion
(vyvtti) of all other things that do not accomplish the desired telic function.
Since each individual fire is actually unique, the conceptual awareness
formed through exclusion is false (mithy) or erroneous (bhrnta) in that it
presents those objects as the same. Nevertheless, since it is rooted in their
causal characteristics, that erroneous awareness can successfully guide
one to objects that will accomplish ones goals. . . . When we reflect on the
conceptual cognition of fire, for example, it appears to assume a fire-ness

For a Buddhist, these are two particulars, vyaktis, and treating them as the same is an error.
Nori 25 / 40
that is present in multiple instances, and in this sense the concept of fire
has anvaya [concomitance]. Here we encounter the relevance of factors
occurring in the mind in which the concept will arise. One such factor is the
imprint of previous experience . . . Another factor is the set of expectations
that arise from having a particular goal, one that Dharmakrti always frames
as obtaining the desirable or avoiding the undesirable. These essentially
behavioural goals create a desire to know (jijsa); that is, a need for
information about what will or will not accomplish the goal. This desire to
know, in turn, places limits (avadhis) on the causes and effects upon which
we focus. In other words, we have expectations about what we wish to obtain
or avoid, and our concepts are constructed in relation to those expectations.

In the case of the concept fire, some set of interests such as the
desire for warmth or other such dispositions prompt us to construe the
phenomenal form in question as distinct from entities that do not have the
causal characteristics expected of what we call fire. At the same time, we
ignore other criteria, such as having the causal characteristics expected of
that which is smoky or fragrant, because these are not part of what we
desire to know so as to accomplish our goals. When we look at an object that
we will call fire, it produces, a phenomenal form that, given the context of
our expectations, activates the imprint of a previous experience. Both the
current phenomenal form and the form that arose in the previous experience
exclude all forms that we would not call fire, but suppose the current fire is
smoky, while the previously experienced fire was not. Indeed from
Dharmakrtis ontological perspective the two fires really are not the same at
all, but our desire to achieve a goal such as warming our hands that is
accomplished by fire creates a context that compels us to ignore these
differences. And since we have ignored the differences between these two
This context
is the exact
one that
refers to in
Letter to a
Nori 26 / 40
phenomenal forms the current one and the one that caused the imprint
we can construe both of them as mutually qualified by a negation, namely,
their difference from phenomenal forms that do not activate the imprints for
the concept fire. That mutual difference, which Dharmakrti calls an
exclusion (vyvtti), thus becomes their nondifference. In short, that
exclusion or nondifference pertains to all things that are different from those
that do not have the expected causal characteristics in this case the causal
characteristics expected of that which we call fire. In this way, exclusion,
being formed on the basis of the phenomenal forms in conceptual cognitions,
are construed as negations that qualify those forms. Thus, while the
phenomenal forms themselves are completely unique they do not have
anvaya and thus are not distributed over other instances they can be
construed as qualified by a negation that does have anvaya, inasmuch as
that negation applies to all the instances in question because they exclude
what is not a fire.

Dharmakrti thus arrives at a theory of universals (smnyalakaa)
that requires both the phenomenal form and the exclusion. That is, strictly
speaking, a universal is a combination of that which is not distributed (i.e.,
lacks anvaya) and that which is distributed. The phenomenal forms, as a
mental particular, is not distributed, but the exclusion (vyvtti), as a negation
applicable to all the phenomenal forms in questions, is distributed.

The above long quotation helps in understanding the simultaneous concept of
presence and absence in Dharmakrtis view of meaning. With this, a sufficiently vivid
explanation of apoha is available, to compare deconstruction and apoha. However before
embarking upon that, one task of explaining a verse quoted by Prof. Ramachandran needs
Nori 27 / 40
to be completed. The following krik is quoted
by Prof. Ramachandran as a major insight
of Dharmakrti (276):

avkavyatirekea vkrthagrahae dvayam |
anyonyrayamityekagrahbhve dvaygraha ||

Since Prof. Ramachandran was indebted to [Mishras] book for all the Buddhist quotations,
we can presume that he looked at the meaning to be as given by Mishra (113)

The verse is given as per verse 116 (p233) of Rahul Sankrityayan without the mistakes, in the
reckoning of this writer, introduced by Prof. Ramachandran and his source Mishra. Their quotations
are shown below, with their mistakes underlined. Prof. Ramachandrans quotation is:
avrikavyatirekea vrikshrtha grahae dwayam| anynyrayamithyekagrhabhve
dwayagrahaha||. Here, the substantial mistake is ekagrhabhve dwayagraha whose intended
meaning could be when one is considered, both are considered, but grha in place of graha is
incorrect. Mishras quotation (113, fn 66) is: avkvyatirekea vkrth grahae dvaya |
anyonyraymityekagrahabhve dvayagraha[] || The mistakes are significant in terms of change in
meaning. avkvyatirekea is to split as avka + avyatirekea, meaning due to non-difference with
non-tree, that is, it establishes a non-tree, where tree is the object intended to be established.
Similarly vkrth grahae has to be split as vkrtha + agrahae, meaning non-consideration of
the signified of tree, whereas consideration is the desired meaning. Finally grahabhve means
when one is considered, both are considered, but this meaning is a non sequitur. When the earlier
word is casting the charge of circularity, how could one (tree) or both (tree and absence of non-tree)
be considered, i.e. their meaning be established? The commentary of Karakagomin (from Rahul
Sankrityayan, 233) supports the reading given in the text. The k in Sanskrit is as follows:

avketydin parasya codyamakate(.) anypohavdina kila na vidhirpea
vikrthasya grahaa npyavkrthasya. kintvanyonyavyavacchedena(.) tatra (.)
avkavyatirekea vikrthagrahae vkaabdasya yorthastasya
grahaebhyupagamyamne. dvaya vkvkagrahaamanyonyrayam. tath
hyavkrthavyavacchedena vkrthagrahae satyavkagrahaaprvaka
vkagrahaamagktam. aghtasyvkasya vyavacchetumaakyatvt. avkasypi
grahaam vkrthavyavacchedeneti tatrpi vkagrahaaprvakamavkagrahaam
patitam.vkamaghtv tadvyavacchedenvkrthasya vyasthpayitumaakyatvt. eva
vkvkayormadhye ekasya vkasyvkasya v grahbhve dvaygraha.
Translation: The objection (codyam) of the opponent is being stated in the verse. Those who
profess anypoha do not posit meaning of either tree or non-tree through a vidhi (equivalent
to a statement in discourse analysis, or an injunctive statement in jurisprudence), but
through mutual exclusion. There, when they take tree to mean that which is opposed to non-
tree, by implication, both the meaning of tree and non-tree are dependent on each other. If
meaning of tree is that which excludes the meaning of non-tree, then it is agreed that
meaning of tree is possible only when preceded by the establishment of meaning of non-tree,
as it is not possible to exclude the meaning of non-tree without first establishing it. If it is said
that the meaning of non-tree is also by exclusion of the meaning of tree, then it means that
the meaning of non-tree has to be preceded by the meaning of tree as it is not possible to
exclude the meaning of tree, without first establishing it. In this way, between tree and non-
tree, if the meaning of one is not established, meaning of both is not established.

Nori 28 / 40
rejected it. Instead he introduces the krik with the remark when we perceive an object as
a tree, simultaneously we perceive what is not a tree or lack of it. In other words, the
identity of an object consists of two dimensions: positive and negative. The remark of Prof.
Ramachandran with respect to apoha is unexceptionable, but this writer is of the opinion
that the quoted verse does not support the remark. The meaning of the quoted verse would
be: In the case of taking the meaning of tree (vkrthagrahae) to be that which is
opposed to non-tree (avkavyatirekea), both are dependent on each other
(anyonyrayam). Due to this [circularity] (iti), in the absence (abhve) of the consideration
of one (ekagraha), there is non-consideration (agraha) of both (dvaya). This is actually
Udyotkaras and Kumarilas criticism of what Tillemans calls the top-down approach of
apoha, that it is circular
. The prvapaka position, or the opponents view in Sanskrit
terminology is in fact specific to what is called the saketakla, the time a particular object is
(arbitrarily) designated as the signified of a particular word. The details of how this objection
has been countered is not being repeated, as the outlines were given in the text earlier.

5. Apoha, deconstruction.

Having examined the definitions of deconstruction and explanation of apoha as
formulated by Dinga and Dharmakrti, one returns to the original question that occasioned
this paper: what is the relationship between apoha and deconstruction?

First, the four similarities drawn / suggested by Prof. Ramachandran may be
revisited. The first is that both apoha and deconstruction are reactions opposed to

. . . a tree is a positive entity as well as a negative one in the form of non-tree. Both the aspects
are known in verbal comprehension. These two aspects are mutually exclusive and through
difference they qualify each other and by this process the identity of an entity is established.

Karakagomins commentary refers to both the criticism immediately after this krik.
Nori 29 / 40
hegemonic systems. As the early definitions of Derrida show, this is indeed true regarding
deconstruction, but cannot be said with the same certainty with respect to apoha. There are
two reasons for such a stance. The first, weak reason, if one could call it that, is that there is
no explicit statement to such an effect when it comes to apoha, as with deconstruction.
True, determination of meaning does not require an explicit statement, but the situation with
respect to apoha can be better portrayed, if we contrast it with Buddhism. One can say more
assuredly that Buddhism was indeed a reaction to the then prevalent hegemony, but with
respect to apoha, it was a Buddhist solution, not reaction, to the ontological problem
highlighted by the hegemonic forces. Thus it was more of a support to the reaction opposed
to hegemony. Yet in the very act of support it pulled the reaction that we could say
Buddhism was, in the very direction of the then prevalent metaphysics. For instance, Satkari
Mookerjee (132-133) surmises three distinctive landmarks in the doctrine of apoha: (1)
apoha as pure negation, as formulated by Dinga, (2) apoha as the positive conceptual
construction, which works through vsanas, bringing it near to the position of Realists, and
(3) Ratnakrtis connotation of a word as a conceptual image qualified by a negation of the
opposite entities

This subtle difference in fact points to a larger difference: Deconstruction,
notwithstanding Derrida in his Letter to a Japanese Friend, is treated by and large as a
philosophy whereas apoha is a concept that serves a Buddhist philosophy. That such a
comparison is indeed being made, then, also speaks of the magnitude of Buddhism and
deconstruction. Deconstruction seems to be everywhere and one is justified in thinking that
it is one of the most influential developments in the twentieth century. Indeed, it is. Still, it
dwarfs in front of one of the largest religions in the world, with more than half a billion

The current scholarship does not hold this view. Mark Siderits in his Was ntarakita a
Positivist? (193-206) and Shoryu Katsura in Jnarmitra on Apoha (171-181), both in Matilal and
Evans, show that Mookerjis categorisations were simplistic. Mookerji has still been quoted, as the
point in the present context was to show that where deconstruction as a reaction is not triggered due
to specific criticisms of a doctrine, apoha is a reaction only in the sense that it develops due to a
polemic process.

Nori 30 / 40
believers, which has been flourishing for the last twenty five centuries. It is so in terms of
texts as well: if Derridas writings and criticisms of Derrida fill a rack, Buddhist texts fill a
library. This comparison is, to use Prof. Ramachandrans words, not another step forward
towards decolonization,
rather, it is to serve as a reminder of the unevenness of the
ground when talking about apoha and deconstruction, and a reminder to not over-read, to
not stretch a point.

The second pointer of Prof. Ramachandran is the possibility of similarity between
differance of Derrida and the vikalpa of Dinga (or, the kalpan of Dharmakrti). At the
surface, one wonders why he leaves the matter at the level of a tentative question. It is the
view of the present writer that Derrida needs to be seen as the inheritor of Kant, Husserl and
Heidegger when one examines differance in light of vikalpa. At the surface, Derrida seems
not to dwell much on ontology and epistemology, which play such a vital role in the concept
of apoha. This might be because the ontological and epistemological investigations with
respect to a theory of meaning have been already conducted by Husserl in some length. It is
significant that Derridas Ph. D. topic was The Problem of Genesis in Husserls
. Joshua Kates in his Essential History traces (Chapters 3 and 4) the
development of Derridas thought from the work done by Derrida for the Ph. D. topic (1953-
54, but not defended till almost three decades later), to his later (1959) summarization of the
same in the paper Gense et structure et la phnomnologie (Genesis and Structure
and Phenomenology), to his book-length Introduction to the translation of Husserls Origin
of Geometry (1962). Continuing Kates account, by 1967 Derrida has moved completely

For this fact (that native thought systems were much older, that they had many more texts and
adherents etc.) was well-known. The colonial discourse was that the quality of the Eastern texts was
poor. One shelf of a good European library, for Thomas Babington Macaulay was worth more than
the whole native literature of Indian and Arabia. He also could not find amongst the Orientalists any
who would argue against the statement (as stated in his 1835 Minute on Education).

Though completed by 1954, this was published first in French in 1990. The English translation was
published in 2003 by Chicago University Press with the title The Problem of Genesis in Husserls

Nori 31 / 40
away from phenomenology. One might posit, recalling Matilals turn of phrase, that for
Derrida, in Husserl if the ontological problem was Genesis, it was Being in Heidegger,
ultimately leading to an epistemological solution, couched as differance, consequent to the
inescapable self-referentiality of language. Differance is difficult to typify. It is a concept; it is
a non-concept; it is both and/or neither simultaneously, and/or by turns
. In contrast, vikalpa
is a concept, as in a subsidiary of the apoha theory. It is a mental construct (which also can
be called conceptual, as it were), a phenomenal form, which is both different from the
object-outside (bhyavastu) and has similarities with it. Its dual nature is what allows us to
operate in language, and that is what makes language an imperfect tool. In that sense, one
can see why Prof. Ramachandran posed the question, but an alternate question presents
itself: is differance similar to apoha? It is important to note that apoha also provides a
solution to the problem of temporality that Husserl talks about in The Origin of Geometry. If
the present now were conceived as a punctual instant, there could be no coherent of
experience as such; one would paradoxically end in denying the identity of ones own
experience, ones own self, as did Hume. There could be no self-relation in such a case; in
short, there could be no life, understood as absolute subjectivity (Alan Bass, xxxvii). Earlier
(in p18 of this paper), the problems consequent to the Buddhist tenet of everything being
momentary were presented. The solution provided by apoha to this problem of temporality
lies in the concept of arthakriykritvam the possession of a telic function, which is posited
as the reason why we refer to the object by using language. This then places limits, or
avadhis, within which language is used. Derrida provides a slightly different version of the
solution. By invoking the sense of to defer in the term differance, he wants users to be
reminded of a similar approximation as Dharmakrti states. The critical difference is that the
fact of a compromise is foregrounded in Derrida, but muted in the background for
apohavdins. This foregrounding is conditioned to a large extent by Derridas refusal to have

Is this admiration at work by way of copying the master? No, hopefully. This sentence is meant
only to expand the previous one that Differance is difficult to typify. By the way, concept is
applicable in all its senses here.
Nori 32 / 40
ontological, theological or epistemological foundations. Thus, one way to view differance
and apoha/vikalpa
is to see them as differences in presentation, rather than in essence.

The third and fourth points of Prof. Ramachandran, that both apoha and
deconstruction view perception as including presence and absence, and that language is
inadequate to express complete meaning of anything are adequately established in the
above discussion. There are other relationships that could be explored.

The first relationship would be other similarities, not mentioned by Prof.
Ramachandran. Both apoha and deconstruction posit limits which fashion the language and
in ultimate analysis want the limits to be removed in fact the limits are what are
deconstructed in deconstruction. That said, once identified, limits tend to get accepted in the
general discourse and get into the background. This becomes clearer with an example.
From the days of Copernicus Galileo, it has been well known that it is the Earth which
revolves around the Sun, yet the usage of the Sun rising and setting persists. True, it is a
metaphoric usage, or more accurately, a descriptive usage transformed into a metaphoric
usage. The process of metaphorisation, or troping, involved first the wide spread
acceptance of Earths revolutions, and then a pact to push it to the background. Thus, in this
view, as and when deconstruction gets troped, it would resemble apoha. There is the other
similar concept called trace, which might be similar to the concept of vsana (imprint) in

A second relationship would be the application. Derrida is a philosopher whose
thinking had the greatest impact on literary criticism in English, rather than on philosophical
discourse in English. Derrida himself demonstrated deconstruction in so many fields: justice,
gifts, hospitality, death, society, politics, diplomacy, economics, historical reality etc. On the

Terminology is not important here; the similarity of thought leading to the non-concept, non-word is
the point. This, in fact, is the burden of the caution expressed at the end of p30 in this paper: not to
stretch a point.
Nori 33 / 40
other hand, Buddhism is a philosophy which has been converted into a religion, one could
say, against the wishes of its founder. Buddhism has been invoked by many (say, in Zen
and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) but that application is quite different from the way
deconstruction has been used. Apoha has largely served only Buddhist philosophy rather
than open a way for a different way of looking at literature or commentary or translation or
other fields. To be sure, there is a separate Buddhist view on literary appreciation, which
derive partly from Nyastra and partly from Buddhist philosophical underpinnings, but the
end result is that Buddhist appreciation, commentary and translation can be safely
described as faithful in the extreme. On the other hand, a deconstructionist criticism,
commentary or translation is the stark opposite of that
, as perceived by the likes of M. A.
Abrams (who would find the Buddhist post-writing, i.e. criticism, commentary or translation,
faithful). With respect to what Buddhist thinkers thought about literary criticism, we do not
have much material available. Indian works on poetics have been composed, as if
Buddhism did not ever exist
, whereas Western writers seem to be searching for a new

Here a deconstructionist would say that his criticism/commentary/translation is indeed the most
faithful one, or correct or good, much in the way that Nida characterised his translation of lamb as pig
or seal, as faithful. A most interesting example is to be found in Eaves and Fischer.Romanticism
and Contemporary Criticism ed. by Morris Eaves and Michael Fishcer (Cornell UP, 1986). In this
anthology J. Hillis Miller, a boa deconstructor (Abrams, 128) first deconstructs Wordsworths A
Slumber Did My Spirit Seal; then, in the next paper a respected negative critic of Derrida, M. H.
Abrams analyses the same poem and critiques Millers criticism. This is followed by an in-depth
interview first with Abrams; then, Miller responds with a postscript to both Millers criticism and
interview, and is then himself interviewed. There in his paper (119), Miller makes the claim that
deconstruction is simply good reading. This point comes out more clearly, anchored as it were in an
example, in his remark (123): I cant make George Eliots Middlemarch . . . mean anything that I want
it to mean. . . . [the] power of text over its readers also opens up the possibility of dialogue among
readers in which you could actually work out whether somebody was right or wrong. It follows that the
real way to get at Derrida it would be hard to do would be to try to demonstrate that he is wrong
about Plato or Ponge or Hegel, that his readings are wrong. This would be far more to the point than
arguing in a vacuum about his theories.

In India, Sanskrit literary criticism is a much developed field. Sushil Kumar De, for instance, in his
History of Sanskrit Poetics lists 105 authors (Bharata to Haladhara Bhatta) who wrote works on
poetics and another 48 anonymous works. They were many Buddhist poets in India like Asvaghosha
who wrote fine poetry. But, in the 150+ works, Buddhist works are not quoted as examples, except
two examples of Dharmakrtis poems by Anandavardhana in a negative light. One can say with a
certain confidence that Buddhist poems are not cited, because most works on Alakrastra are
written according to a certain scheme, drawing heavily from vykaraa, mms and nyya. The
purpose of any work is to convey the Vedic dharma, but in an engaging manner as a woman would
instruct (kntsammit), as opposed to the way a king would order (prabhusammit, the manner of
the Vedas), or speak bluntly like a friend (mitrasammit, the manner of Mahabharata and Puras).
Indeed any commentator is expected to be a master of the three stras mentioned above -
Nori 34 / 40
Buddhist turn in literary criticism, like Jefferson Humphries does to a certain extent in In
Reading Emptiness: Buddhism and Literature. Thus, we see that, as stated earlier, the two
apoha and deconstruction though similar in their origins, have developed to
serve different purposes.

A third relationship would be the responses induced by deconstructionists and
Buddhists. Both have been branded as anarchists, but display little difference in practice
with respect to their supposed adversaries. For instance, as Miller put it in 1986 (121),
Derrida, for example, teaches philosophy. He teaches mostly the central canon of major
philosophers, Plato, Leibnitz, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, just as any other historian
of philosophy would do. Similarly, the eight-fold path taught by Buddha would be perfectly
acceptable to any Hindu, or santanadharmin. Both claim to shake up the old establishment
and indirectly rejuvenate the old ways of thinking. Buddhism did not explicitly claim to
rejuvenate the stikas, but according to some versions, has transformed the intuitive
discourse of Upanishads into the logical and systematic treatment that is seen during the
period where stras of various daranas were compiled. Deconstructionists would more
gladly accept the aim of rejuvenating the old ways of thinking. Finally, in their time, both
have been seen as radical, but with passage of time, Buddhism is quite the mainstream in
the Eastern part of the world. Deconstruction is yet to reach that stage. This observation
leads to the one conclusion of this comparative study: that apoha helps in understanding
deconstruction better by providing the foundation of ontology and epistemology, though
deconstruction itself is non-foundational. This point is presented in some detail in the next,
final section.

padavkyapramavit). The exception to this is Ratnarjna who wrote a commentary on Dains
Kvydara. In his commentary, Ratnarjna quotes Buddhist verses approvingly.

A rare adjective used by Derrida himself to refer to deconstruction and differance.
Nori 35 / 40
6. Conclusion

The motivation for Prof. Ramachandrans short paper, and hence this not-so-short
paper, was to take a step towards decolonization by showing that what is considered avant-
garde of Western thought bears similarities with ancient Indian thoughts. To that extent, a
comparison of vikalpa/apoha/Buddhism and deconstruction has largely served its purpose
by revealing probably similar origins (a reaction to hegemonistic philosophies), a very similar
theory of meaning based on exclusion, a similar view of cognition involving both presence
and absence, a very similar view of language (its essential inability to grasp the complete
meaning) and a few differences. Both the approaches have invoked similar response as
well, but their major difference is that they have extended into different branches: Buddhism
towards religion, and deconstruction towards literary criticism. With time, Buddhism now
looks less radical (though it is not), whereas deconstruction is still at the edge, so to speak.
Then, one could surmise that when deconstruction gets troped, it will start looking more like

There is another point which needs to be noted, with all the care and humility that
deconstruction teaches
. It seems to this writer, that many opponents of deconstruction do
not understand the strategy because they do not understand the foundations, which of
course, do not exist as in there being a particular foundation to it. For instance, a common
negative criticism of deconstructionists is that they read what they want to read in a given
text or situation. The implied critique is that if deconstruction could overturn the hierarchy of
Presence/Absence, then the deconstruction hierarchy of Absence/Presence could also be
overturned, and that there is no end to this play. Since the end is arbitrary, any meaning
which is desired can be read into a text. In other words, deconstructions can be
deconstructed. The view of deconstructionists is that, it is not possible to deconstruct a

For, the most significant teaching of deconstruction is to approach any situation with caution and
humility, to constantly examine the assumptions, especially the foundational ones. One cannot
escape the limits imposed by language, but one could be aware of it and be more careful.
Nori 36 / 40
deconstruction as there must be limiting assumptions, or a centre, or a foundation to be
deconstructed, but deconstructions by definition proceed without any of these, and hence
deconstruction of deconstructions is not possible. At some stage, the mind of the negative
critic closes, and everything that deconstructionist says is portrayed as a play of language.
The compliment that critics usually give deconstructionists that such-and-such is very good
with language, actually means that the words of such-and-such are empty.

Now, this writer believes that such a situation exists because critics do not pay enough
attention to the foundational nature of differance. With the concept/non-concept, or concept
of differance, we do have an ontological foundation (that is, not the foundation) for
deconstruction. If a version of ontology and epistemology that underlie deconstruction are
explained like Tillemans has in the case of apoha, indeed if apoha itself with its concomitant
lucid expositions is proposed as a foundation for deconstruction, much of the confusion
regarding deconstruction will clear. It is not to say that all negative criticism will be answered
(Buddhism itself has not achieved that but, there is not the same confusion with Buddhism
or apoha, amongst its opponents, as obtains with respect to deconstruction). It is that the
confusion amongst critics will be less, and hopefully there would be more adherents, not put
off by the slipperiness (as perceived by the non-adherents) of the language of
deconstructionists. In making this conclusion, one tried to become aware of the various
forces that push this conclusion forward. Firstly, if one spends long time on a given topic,
especially a comparative one, it becomes a looking glass to view the entire world and
everything becomes related to the topic at hand. Second, one is always eager to draw grand
conclusions, to assert ones insights, where none might be. Third, a hidden pride of the sort
that ancient Indians, those magnificent philosophers, analyzed and presented much better
than the Johnnie-come-latelies might be at play. Even after considering the influence of
these forces, one is compelled to say that apoha is indeed helpful in explaining
deconstruction better. This is true at a personal level, and if not as an established fact, at the
least, it deserves to be taken as a hypothesis and be subject to further examination.
Nori 37 / 40
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