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book reviews

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Vincent Eltschinger
Buddhist Epistemology as Apologetics. Studies on the History, Self-understanding
and Dogmatic Foundations of Late Indian Buddhist Philosophy (sterreichische
Akademie der Wissenschaften, philosophisch-historische Klasse Sitzungsberichte,
851. Band / Beitrge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens; 81), Wien: Verlag der
aw, 2014, x + 436 pp. isbn 978 3 7001 7583 4. 66.

With this book, originally submitted as a habilitation thesis to the University of Vienna, Eltschinger takes the self-contained and specialized study of
Dharmakrti in an entirely new direction, placing Dharmakrtis works strongly
within its socio-historical context. It consists of four studies which, though
originally published as independent essays, have been conceived as chapters of an organic book dedicated to the socio-historic context and the dogmatic foundations of early Indian Buddhist epistemology (p. ix). While the
four studies still retain their original character and deal with widely different
materials and subjects, the overall combination of these studies into a single
volume works well in engaging the reader with the central topic addressed
from necessarily varying perspectives, many of which should be of relevance
also to non-Dharmakrtian scholars. The book merits as such a broad readership.
The four chapters of the book are prefaced by an introduction in which
the books central research topic is presented: the apologetic dimensions of
early Buddhist philosophy. It opens with a simple question, How seriously
should we take Dharmakrtis Buddhist affiliation? (p. 1). Tracing the history
of Dharmakrtian scholarship in the twentieth century Eltschinger identifies
a major break in the early eighties, which moved from an interest in Dharmakrtis philosophical thought to an interest in the dogmatic and soteriological dimensions of Buddhist epistemology (p. 3) but without venturing into the
vexed question how Dharmakrtis thought should be understood against the
backdrop of its socio-historical context. It is this that the book under review
proposes to do. Outlining his major hypothesis, Eltschinger introduces some
of the key themes of the book: I believe that the socio-historical matrix (religious pluralism, Brahmanical hostility, competition for patronage), the identity
of the opponents (rival salvational systems with strong apologetical concerns
expressing themselves through linguistic and epistemological theory), the doctrinal foundations and the issues at stake call for a description of Buddhist epistemology as an apologetical enterprise (p. 4). Identifying this epistemology as
apologetics, in short the rational defense of the Buddhist faith, should not in
any way threaten the claim that these intellectuals were genuine philosophers
(pp. 56). It seems telling about the state of Dharmakrtian scholarship that

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2015 | doi: 10.1163/15728536-05800063

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Eltschinger enters an apologetic mode to defend his position of understanding


Buddhist epistemology as apologetics.
Chapter 1 (Apocalypticism, Heresy and Philosophy) starts with a topic that at
first sight may come as a surprise: the evolution of the Brahmanical and Buddhist apocalyptic prophecies found in texts that date from the second to the
sixth century ce (p. 36). One reason for dealing with Brahmanical apocalypticism, which as Veltschinger argues develops from a view of the kaliyuga characterized by the presence of foreigners (mleccha) to one whose main feature
is heresy and heretics (paa, pain), is that this new apocalyptic concern with Buddhism and Jainism can be seen as one part of the ideological and
rhetorical background against which the Brahmanical philosopher Kumrila
Bhaa (sixth century) turned the ritualistic Mms into the most uncompromising anti-Buddhist philosophical system ever created in ancient India
(p. 37). The apocalyptic eschatologies of the Gupta age attest to the growing
hostility of Brahmanical communities towards Buddhism, which may have led
schools such as Nyya and Mms to turn their attention towards Buddhism,
and it is the criticism of these Brahmanical schools that formed one factor that
at least partly explains why the Buddhist epistemologists changed their habits
and the meaning of Buddhist philosophy radically during the sixth century
(p. 71). The second part of the chapter looks at the development of Buddhist
apocalyptic eschatologies, which provide indicative evidence to the effect that
by the turn of the sixth century, certain Indian Buddhists started paying attention to new threats and, in reaction, modified their apocalyptic schemes by
taking up the hitherto purely Brahmanical pattern of four ages ( yuga) (p. 37).
In contrast to the Brahmanical apocalyptic eschatologies, those of the Buddhists do not as a rule hold outsiders to be responsible for the degeneration
of the age, but rather attribute it to internal quarrels and laxity within the Buddhist communities themselves. Nevertheless some texts at least, most notably
the Kraavyhastra and the work of the Buddhist monk and translator
Narendrayaas, seem to reflect, though rather sparsely, a Buddhist awareness
of otherwise clearly identifiable threats: a loss of political footing (if not political hostility) and the enmity of non-Buddhist orthodox and sectarian milieux
(p. 91).
There is much of interest to the historian of religion in this chapter. The
discussion of Brahmanical apocalypticism builds on existing scholarship, in
particular that of Gonzles-Reimann, and finds that references to pains
outnumber those to mlecchas as a sign of the kaliyuga in texts that were composed towards the end of the Gupta period. There is a caveat here, however,
since the texts that are drawn upon to show this (the Vyu-, Brahmaand Viupura) are anonymous texts whose precise dating, let alone of

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individual parts of it, remains to some extent uncertain.1 Thus I would be


hesitant to draw a direct historical line from the Vyuprokta Brahmapura (fourth century ce: p. 54) to the Viupura (fifth-sixth century ce:
p. 57). While Eltschinger traces a linear development in the increase of references to pains in these Puras, in particular the Viupura, one
would also need to take into account the different Brahmanical communities that were behind their composition. Thus it may be relevant that it is in
particular the Viupura that associates pains, with its connotations
of Buddhists and Jains, with the kaliyuga. For we find the same aggressive
attitude towards pains attested throughout another Vaiava textagain,
of uncertain date, the Viudharma, and formulated in strikingly similar
terms.2 A text like the Skandapura (sixth-seventh century), on the other
hand, does not contain a single reference to pains. This may not only
reflect a difference in time but also in position, that of the conservative, antiBuddhist Vaiavas of the Viupura on the one hand and the soon-to-be
dominant aivas of the Skandapura on the other.
In the introduction to chapter 2 (Buddhist Esoterism and Epistemology)
Eltschinger lists three phenomena that are taking place within Buddhism as
it enters the early medieval period (5001200/1300ce): (1) the rise of Buddhist
esoterism, (2) the appearance of large monastic institutions, and (3) the rise
of the Buddhist epistemological school. According to this analysis, the rise of
esoterism and epistemology should be seen as two contemporaneous innovations in Buddhism that both respond to the major sociopolitical, institutional,
religious and philosophical challenges of that much troubled period (p. 94).
It is here that the book truly opens up new ground, since nobody before has
drawn attention to the parallelism of these two phenomena in such a systematic manner. The third phenomenon mentioned, the appearance of large
monastic institutions, receives considerably less treatment. It would be reward-

1 For the date of the Viupura one should now also refer to: Peter Schreiner, Viupura.
Althergebrachte Kunde ber Viu. Berlin: Verlag der Weltreligionen (2013), pp. 589592 (Mitte des vierten Jahrhunderts [592]).
2 Reinhold Grnendahl, Viudharm. Precepts for the worship of Viu. Wiesbaden: Otto
Harrassowitz Verlag, 3 volumes. See in particular Viudharma 25 (on the characteristics
of the pains) and 105.3940: utkoc saugat caiva mahynarats tath | bhaviyanty
atha pa kapil bhikavas tath || vddh rvakanirgranth siddhaputrs tathpare
| bhaviyanti durtmna dr kaliyuge npa ||. The Mahbhrata appendix passage discussed on pp. 6364 (on Vius avatra as the Buddha) has a parallel in Viudharma 66.78
80. This indicates a later date of the Viudharma since the Viupura does not yet consider
Mymoha (the Buddha in disguise) as an avatra of Viu (p. 59).

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ing but challenging to combine the study of the rise of Buddhist epistemology
in its socio-historical context with an in-depth study of the rise of large monastic institutions.
The section on Buddhist esoterism discusses, with extensive quotations, the
two major current theories about the rise of Buddhist Tantrism in the early
medieval period, those of Davidson (Indian Esoteric Buddhim) and Sanderson
(in particular his seminal article The aiva Age). Eltschinger argues that
despite appearances both scholars actually agree on some fundamental points,
viz. that the medieval political landscape was instrumental in the rise of
Buddhist Tantrism, that competition for royal patronage was the driving
force behind religious change, and that aivism, especially its appeal to the
new sovereigns was the main threat as well as major source of inspiration for
Buddhism (p. 113). He concludes that the opposition towards aivism in early
Buddhist Tantras effected the construction of Buddhist identity by opposing
an abhorrent and impeding other (p. 151). In this section Eltschinger discusses,
inter alia, an important passage of the Kraavyha, in which Avalokitevara
is said to have produced the Hindu deities from different parts of his body.
In Kraavyha 265,48, Avalokitevara predicts that Mahevara will be
[active] when the Kali age arrives, that he will be called the creator and
agent [of the world] and that all beings who hold the following discourse
to(/among) ordinary people will be deprived of the path to enlightenment: It is
said that space is [Mahevaras] liga, [and that] the earth is [his] pedestal; it is
the receptacle of all beings, [and it is] because [they] merge(/fuse) [into it that
it] is called liga. (p. 141). The same passage is referred to earlier on p. 84. The
verse quoted here has been discussed extensively by Regamey and Studholme
(see p. 84n198) who, following a spurious lead by Danilou, failed to find it in the
Skandapura. The verse in question can in fact be identified in exactly the
same form in the ivadharmastra. In my draft edition of ivadharmastra
3.17 the verse runs as follows: ka ligam ity hu pthiv tasya phik |
laya sarvabhtn lyanl ligam ucyate ||. It seems very likely that the
Kraavyha has quoted the verse directly from the ivadharmastra, whose
main teaching is liga worship and which was a central work of early lay
aivism. If the Kraavyha has borrowed it from the ivadharmastra, this
may have important consequences for the dating and history of both texts.
The second part of the chapter is concerned with Buddhist epistemology and
starts with a historiography of the Buddhist epistemological school. Eltschinger
argues, against the reconstruction of a linear evolution of Buddhist epistemology out of Buddhist dialectics by Frauwallner, that it is not solely to be
explained as the product of a few individuals philosophical discoveries and
strokes of genius, but also as a response to external, non-philosophical cir-

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cumstances (p. 155). Its main features are polemical and apologetic and as such
it is concerned with providing the Buddhist answer to outward criticism of a
philosophical order (p. 173). He concludes: the two major sixth-century innovations, Buddhist esoterism and epistemology, legitimate themselves in a structurally homologous way, and in quite martial terms, as that which, by defeating the outsiders, removes the obstacles to the path towards liberation (p. 174).
The remainder of the chapter intends to show how the epistemological turn
and the simultaneous shift in the polemical targets that take place within the
dialectical tradition coincide with a strong decline and deep reformulation of
Abhidharma scholasticism, which had become the paradigmatic instance of
acute intersectarian polemics and self-consciousness (p. 176).
Chapters 3 (Turning Hermeneutics into Apologetics) and 4 (Ignorance, Epistemology and Soteriology)3 take us to the heart of Dharmakrtis project. In
chapter 3 Eltschinger shows how the rise of Buddhist epistemology cum apologetics did not come out of nowhere but involved the reconfiguration and externalization of earlier Buddhist scholasticism, in which in particular hermeneutic Yogcra principles pertaining to reason(ing) ( yukti) and scripture (gama)
played a key role. From Dharmakrti onwards, all scriptural authority (Buddhist and non-Buddhist) was to be evaluated by reason(ing) alone. The Buddha
was seen as a practically rational (prekvat) person and Buddhism was represented as an eminently rational religion based on the paradigmatically rational and altruistic person of its founder (p. 245). In the final chapter 4 the book
(implicitly) returns to the question raised in the opening sentence. It is argued
that the epistemological approach advanced by Dharmakrti is fundamentally
Buddhist by nature, viz. it is permeated bylets saydogmatic/religious
schemes, concepts and preoccupations and evidences, especially as far as
perception and inference are concerned, an organic relation to soteriology
(p. 248). The key to Dharmakrtis Buddhism lies in the fundamental role
played by nescience (avidy), to be understood as anti-knowledge or counterknowledge, in dependent origination (prattyasamutpda), since it is the
chains first link and as such the factor ultimately responsible for suffering
(p. 266). In particular, Dharmakrti equates it with what he calls the personalistic false view (satkyadi/-darana) and it is this view that needs to be
eradicated by inference. To sum up, [t]hough unable to uproot ignorance by
themselves, pramas do more than just pave the way toward the path to liberation. In being responsible for the arising of right views that (still on a the-

3 This is the chapters title on p. 247, but the table of contents and the headers give the title as
Nescience, Epistemology and Soteriology.

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oretical level) counteract the most visible and gross manifestations of avidy,
they form the turning point that makes the path towards salvation possible
(pp. 323234).
The book is concluded by a detailed index nominum (divided into eight subsections!), index locorum and index terminum. An overall conclusion rounding off the four individual chapters would have been welcome, in particular
because the subjects of the first two chapters (which mostly focus on sociohistorical issues) and the last two chapters (mainly on Buddhist epistemology
as apologetics proper) differ quite strongly from each other. Taken as a whole,
however, the book introduces and discusses a number of key issues relevant to
understanding Buddhist epistemology as apologetics and opens up an entirely
new vista of doing not only Dharmakrtian studies, but Indian philosophy in
general from a socio-historical perspective.
Peter Bisschop
Leiden University
p.c.bisschop@hum.leidenuniv.nl

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