This Indian school was primarily concerned with epistemology as well as logic and the methods of debate. The principle proponents of this philosophy of incorporating the logic approach of valid cognition were Dignaga (480-540) who wrote Compendium on Valid Perception and Dharmakirti (7th century) who wrote Commentary on the Compendium of Valid Perception. Dharmakirti was a student of Ishvarasena who, in turn was a student of Dignaga. Dignaga and Dharmakirti are considered two of the “six jewels of India” and held many of the views of the Sautrantika School. This school is not shown on the detailed Mahayana lineage chart as there are no known groups in the U.S.
Dignaga was a disciple of Vasubhandu and one of the most respected philosophers in India. Born in the southern Indian city of Simhavakta to a Brahmin family, he became a monk with a Hinayana teacher, but dissatisfied with the Hinayana teachings went in search of further instruction and met Vasubhandu.
Every day he would recite 500 Mahayana sutras. From a tantric master who was an emanation of Heruka he received the empowerment and the “Method of Actualization” of Manjushri. By practicing this, he received a vision of Manjushri, and from then on received teachings from Manjushri whenever he wished.
Dignaga is known as the founder of Buddhist logic. He wrote over a hundred works on logic and other matters including Arya Prajnaparamita -samgraha-karika (A Verse Compendium of the Noble Perfection of Wisdom), and the Pramanasamuccaya (The Synthesis of All Reasoning). The later was such a profound and timely text that according to the Tibetans when Dignaga wrote the salutation to the work, “Homage to him who is Logic personified…”, the earth shook, thunder and lightning flashed, and the legs of all the heretical teachers in the vicinity became as stiff as wood. Using his skills at logic, he became famous as a debater. He was also famous for his miracles and had many disciples. He traveled throughout India establishing Mahayana, and spent many years in Kashmir. He completed his life meditating in a remote cave in the jungles of Odivisha.
Dharmakirti was born in the southern Indian town of Cudamani to a Brahmin family. At an early age he became learned in the arts, the teachings of the vedas, medicine, grammar, and the tenets of the various sages. Then becoming inspired by the teachings of Buddha and the lineage of Pure Consciousness, he took ordination as a monk from Ararya Dharmpala and studied the Tripitaka from beginning to end. Every day he recited 500 different sutras and mantras.
He became a great adept at logic, equal to the master Dignaga himself, and wrote a famous commentary entitled Pramana Varttika on Dignaga’s Pramana Samuchaya or Compendium on Valid Perception. He also wrote Seven Treatises of Logic. His works became the basis for debate training in the Tibetan monasteries. He himself was said to be such an excellent debater that the population of Indian sages of other schools was quite depleted by his efforts, since after losing they had to convert to Buddhism or throw themselves into the Ganges.
A disciple of Dinaga, Dharmapala became the head of Nalanda after his teacher died. After that he went to Bodhgaya and became abbot of the Mahabodhi Monastery. He died at the age of 32. He wrote a number of original works and commentaries most of which have been lost.
A disciple of Dharmapala, Silabhadra was born to a royal Brahmin family in the East Indian city of Samatata. He was conversant with the teachings of all sects, famous for his mastery of Buddhist sutras and commentaries, and became head of Nalanda where 104 years old, he taught the Chinese Master, Hsuan Tsang (Xuanzang), the Consciousness-Only doctrine through his exposition of Asanga’s Yogacharabhumi-shastra or Treatise on the Stages of Yoga Practice.