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Pramana (Skt. pramāṇa; Tib. ཚད་མ་, tsema, Wyl. tshad ma) is a Sanskrit term, the primary meaning and most common translation of which is 'valid cognition', meaning the correct knowledge of a particular object.

The term is also used to refer to the corpus of Buddhist teachings on epistemology (the science of cognition, i.e. how we know things) and ontology (which investigates the nature of existence), as these two are inextricably linked in Buddhism. The pioneers of these teachings are the Indian masters Dignaga and Dharmakirti.

Pramana is taught in all shedras since it is the basis for debate, an important learning tool in traditional monastic universities. In this context the term is sometimes translated as 'Buddhist logic'.


The standard definition of pramana is "a non-deceptive cognition" (Skt. avisaṃvādi-jñāna; Tib. མི་བསླུ་བའི་ཤེས་པ་, Wyl. mi bslu ba'i shes pa). There is some debate, particularly amongst Tibetan commentators, as to whether the definition should also specify that a valid cognition realizes something anew (Tib. གསར་དུ་རྟོགས་པ་, Wyl. gsar du rtogs pa).[1]


According to the Instruments of Knowledge

In the Buddhist tradition, a valid cognition can either be:

This twofold division is said to correspond to the two types of object: particulars, which are known through direct perception and universals, which are understood through inference.

Conventional and Absolute

In Mipham Rinpoche's tradition, valid cognition is often divided into conventional valid cognition and absolute valid cognition and these categories are then further subdivided into two:

  1. Conventional valid cognition (tha snyad tshad ma)
    1. conventional valid cognition of ordinary limited vision, or valid cognition of ordinary limited vision investigating the conventional level of reality (ma dag tshur mthong tha synad dpyod pa'i tshad ma), and
    2. conventional valid cognition of pure vision, or valid cognition of pure vision investigating the conventional level of reality (dag pa'i gzigs snang tha snyad dpyod pa'i tshad ma)
  2. Valid cognition of the absolute (don dam dpyod byed kyi tshad ma)
    1. Valid cognition of the categorized absolute (rnam grangs pa'i don dam dpyod byed kyi tshad ma)
    2. Valid cognition of the uncategorized absolute (rnam grangs ma yin pa'i don dam dpyod byed kyi tshad ma)

Major Texts


The Tengyur contains a Pramana or 'Logic and Epistemology' section of 66 shastras from Indian masters; see Toh 4203-4268.


Alternative Translations

  • Logic & epistemology
  • Prime cognition
  • Verifying cognition


  1. For more information see Dreyfus (1997), pp. 366-378 passim

Further Reading

  • Georges B. J. Dreyfus, Recognizing Reality: Dharmakīrti's Philosophy and Its Tibetan Interpretations, SUNY, 1997
  • John D. Dunne, Foundations of Dharmakirti's Philosophy, Wisdom Publications, 2004
  • Marcus Perman, Tshad Ma Literature: Towards a History of Tibetan Buddhist Epistemology, unpublished M.A. thesis, 2006.
  • Tom J. F. Tillemans, Scripture, logic, language: essays on Dharmakīrti and his Tibetan successors, Wisdom Publications, 1999
  • Ringu Tulku, The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgön Kongtrul the Great (Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, 2006), pages 60-64.

External Links