Jayatilleke's Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge is on Internet Archive

K.N. Jayatilleke’s Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge is the single most outstanding work of Buddhist philosophy of the 20th century. Jayatilleke combined his extensive understanding of the Pali with incisive research into Indian culture and a rigorous background in modern analytical (British) philosophy to produce a work that illuminates every field that it touches on, and they are many. Sparkling with insights and ruthless in method, it is the classic “teacher of the teachers”, having influenced Bhikkhu Bodhi, myself, and a whole generation.

Whereas most books on “Buddhist philosophy” are there for easy-listening solace, and are generally pleasant but forgettable, Jayatilleke addresses, and often solves, hard problems that have real world implications. We are in the midst of what Barack Obama recently characterized as “an epistemological crisis”. Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge points to how the problem of how we know what we know is central to the Buddha’s teaching. The solutions it demonstrates are just as useful today as they were then.

Jayatilleke’s work was built on by others, notably his student David Kalupahana, who extended his teacher’s method to include the texts and teachings of other schools of Buddhism beyond the Pali. But his accomplishments remain under-recognized, and his solutions to critical problems such as the empirical nature of rebirth in Buddhism are routinely passed over.

I’m planning on teaching a course based on this book next year. Stay tuned for details!

You can read it online at the Internet Archive:

You can also purchase a hard cover edition at a very reasonable price from Motilal Banarsidass.


Is it going to be mostly theory and concepts, or will it have some relevance to actual practice?

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And here I am, silly old me, thinking that right view was part of the eightfold path. Oh, hang on … :laughing:

But seriously! The course is intended to address our “epistemological crisis”. I can guarantee: someone close to you among your family, friends, and colleagues, or maybe even you yourself, are in the grip of some absurd conspiracy theory. We are being led down a road of delusion and madness, one YouTube clip at a time. It’s tearing us apart. Jayatilleke’s rigorous empiricism is like a blast of hot sun in a clammy swamp. It’s not about theory: it’s about survival.


I thought you’d know what I mean… but then again, maybe you don’t read minds - that’s good news :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I’ve been reading tons of buddhist stuff over past years, to the point that I’ve got tired of it. I think I’ve got enough theoretical right view, but I hunger for the experiential right view. Which is why recently I’ve been putting emphasis on meditation in my life.

Now that’s a piece of great advertisment, where did you learn that? :smiley:


Great news Bhante, thank you for drawing our attention to this. I’m a big fan of Kalupahana and have learnt a great deal from his books, particularly his descriptions of the Buddha’s approach to describing the limits of epistemological inquiry imposed by the five aggregates and in particular the impossibility of using them to know “how things really are”, given the substantialist and eternalist implications of such a statement, but the capability of knowing how “things have come to be”. Thanks again


Wonderful! I am just starting to dabble in Buddhist Philosophy and Epistemology, so I am very much looking forward to your course!

Is there a book on Indian history from, say, the Early Vedic period through Ashoka that you, or anyone, recommends?

It would be lovely to find a book that favors ease of reading over academic rigor. I’m saving my academic rigor for the Jayatilleke book on the Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. :slightly_smiling_face: I’m just feeling more and more need for a better general history in my head when I read about early Buddhism.



I recommend the first few episodes of the history of India podcast (note the episodes are listed reverse chronologically on the website)


Thank you for this bhante. I’m seeing quite a bit on verificationism in the contents page, which if the author ties to the Buddha is disconcerting in light of Hume and Popper.

Thank you, @Khemarato.bhikkhu! :pray:

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yathābhūtaṃ -> in reality as it has come to be, not ‘as things really are’

yoniso manasikara -> thinking in terms of origin, not ‘wise’

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Looks like the course is in-person only. Will the sessions be recorded by any chance?



And the course is now being offered online. :smiley:

The first meeting is on 2021-08-21T05:00:00Z2021-08-21T07:00:00Z, and weekly thereafter.


That is awesome! Thank you for the update :slight_smile:

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Cool. Will mean a doable but rather early 6am start in this part of the world (must start doing my “homework” and actually reading the book now in advance :slight_smile: ).

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