Theory of valid cognition in Buddhism


Theory of valid cognition is a discipline that analyses statements of others by means of logical deliberation. And the same is true regarding Buddha. We should analyse statements of Buddha by means of logical deliberation and theory of cognition if they are correct or not. If a teaching is correct it should withstand threefold criteria of truthfulness:

1.Validity in regards to authoritative scriptures.
2.Validity in regards to deductive enquiry.
3.Validity in regards to direct enquiry.

We cannot just take the teachings of Buddha and believe to them. Even the one explaining them is a very good person, we have no warranty he does know how to teach others to be like him.

For instance, what is the difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists? Non-Buddhists use to say: We have received our teachings from a God, or from Brahma, and because our God is good, his teachings are good. But who knows his teachings are really true and correct? - Nobody. That’s what their arguments are worth of.

Buddhists, on opposite, cannot approach it so irresponsibly. They have to logically test the teachings they are taught. And it has to be done by means of theory of valid cognition (or Tsema in Tibetan).

There are 2 types of right cognition:
1.Direct valid cognition.
2. Deductive valid cognition.

And when you analyse Buddha’s teaching by means of these two types of true knowledge, what is correct or what is incorrect, when you make certain it is correct, you may realize also that the one who taught it, Buddha, was correct.

Such Buddhist notions as “emptiness”, “non-existence of “I”, soul, inner self” one should definitely prove to him/her-self by methods of valid cognition. But the absolute truth is impossible to examine by means of logic alone. Logical or deductive cognition deals only with concepts, thought, ideas, notions. For this reason the absolute truth should be examined by direct enquiry, when we practice and realize it is really the way we thought it should be.

So we can conclude the most important difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists is that theories of Buddhists are based on logic, while theories of non-Buddhists are not based on logical deliberation.

The other reason why Buddhists learn theory of valid cognition is because most ordinary people are not aware what is a consciousness that all beings have, what are the objects of consciousness, what is perception and how it related to objects of perception, what are notions and their meanings and how they can be related with each other.

Buddha Shakyamuni didn’t have a separate Sutra regarding the valid cognition, but his teachings and statements about the valid cognition could be found in many Sutras. In 6th century a student of great Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu, his name was Dignaga, gathered together everything that he could found in Buddha Sutras regarding valid cognition. From this point onwards Buddhist theory of valid cognition started as a separate discipline. A student of Dignaga – Dharmakirti – very profoundly studied the theory of valid cognition and Buddha’s teachings and condensed the most important teachings on the subject in 7 books. At his time it was a huge impact on other Buddhist and non-Buddhist scholars, soon many others started to learn and research theory of cognition seriously.

In Tibet the founder of research in theory of valid cognition was Chapa Chökyi Sengé in 12 century. He introduced rules and regulations of debates the way they are performed also in our days.

Nowadays very often the theory of valid cognition in Tibetan Buddhism is learned from the book of a great Buddhist scholar of 13th century Sakya Pandita – Tsema Rigter (Treasury of Logic and Valid Cognition (Tshad ma rigs pa'i gter)). He brought together all the most important knowledge in books written by Dignaga and Dharmakirti and created a very authoritative treatise.

“Treasury of Logic and Valid Cognition” by Sakya Pandita is the most authoritative book on theory of cognition in Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Kagyu recognizes the authority of both – this book and books by Dharmakirti, while traditions of Gelug and Nyngma rely only on books by Dharmakirti.