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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 86 the suffix ana, which indicates a method or instrument. So pramana is the study of methods for bringing about excellent knowledge. Understanding the methods we use to arrive at correct knowledge is funda- mental to the buddhadharma, because incorrect knowledge is the root cause for circling in samsara. In particular, this incorrect knowledge consists of mistaking what is impermanent to be permanent, mistaking what are causes of suffering to be causes of happiness, and mistaking whatisnotaselftobeaself. Put another way, the first link in the chain of dependent origination is fun- damental ignorance: not knowing who and what we are and not recognizing the nature of phenomena. This gives rise to a basic dualistic split that makes self and its projections appear to be two. Based on this split, karmic actions and all the other links in the chain arise, climaxing with old age and death. The antidote for samsara is correct knowing that does not divide reality into self and other, but sees suchness, things as they are, genuine reality. This interrupts the karmic chain reaction and brings about liberation, or nirvana. This is why distinguishing correct knowledge from incorrect knowl- edge is vitally important. However, distinguishing these two is not as easy as you might think. This makes the study of pramana both diffi- cult and profound. You can get a glimpse of this by thinking about the different ways you might know something. An obvious source of knowledge is direct experience. A traditional example used in the pramana literature is know- ing the taste of candy. To bring this up to date, let’s use a Snickers bar as our example. When you bite into a Snickers bar, you know what the taste is. You can describe it as sweet and crunchy and chocolaty and creamy, but that does not begin to convey what the experience is actually like. In fact, you can’t share the experience with someone who has never eaten a Snickers bar through a descrip- tion, no matter how detailed it is. Concepts and inference are also sources of knowledge. Even if you have never eaten a Snickers bar, you could get the idea that it tastes sweet and crunchy because it is made from roasted peanuts, nougat, caramel, and milk chocolate. Knowing what the ingredients taste like, you can infer what their combination LoriParsons Dharma Dictionary Andy K Arr studied pramana with Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso rinpoche and dzogchen Ponlop rinpoche (from whom he borrowed the Snickers example). He is the author of Contemplating Reality: A Practitioner’s Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Pramana Defined by Andy Karr Pramana is a Sanskrit term usually translated into English as “valid cognition.” The Buddhist study of valid cognition can be traced back to Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, and other early Indian masters, who discussed sources and types of knowledge in their writ- ings. The main Buddhist pramana tra- dition dates from the beginning of the sixth century, when the master Dignaga articulated a comprehensive system in his Pramanasamuchchaya, or Compendium on Valid Cognition. This system was expanded upon and refined in the sev- enth century by another master named Dharmakirti, who composed seven trea- tises on valid cognition, the most impor- tant of which is the Pramanavarttika, or the Commentary on Valid Cognition. These remain important sources for the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The word pramana seems to be derived from the Sanskrit root ma, mean- ing to measure or ascertain; the prefix pra, meaning excellent or perfect; and