On Types of Certainty: from Buddhism to Islam and Beyond

Comparative Philosophy 13 (2) (2022)
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Abstract

Studies the threefold hierarchy of certainty, from its origins in Mahāyāna Buddhism, through Islam, to 17th century China. This tripartite scheme may be traced back to the ancient Buddhist scheme of the threefold wisdom as systematized by Vasubandhu of Gandhāra in the 4th-5th centuries CE. Following the advent of Islam in the 8th century, it was combined with Qur'anic notions of certainty. Initially taken up by early Islamic mystics such as Sahl al-Tustarī and al-Ḥākim al-Tirmiḏī, the notion of yaqīn was gradually systematized into the three-level hierarchy of “knowledge or science of certainly”, “essence” of certainty, and “truth or reality of certainty”, a hierarchy that bears a distinct resemblance to the Buddhist threefold path of wisdom as discussed by Marc-Henri Deroche. Half a millennium later, this threefold hierarchy of levels of certainty, remotely inspired by Buddhism and integrated into the philosophical Sufism of Ibn ʿArabī and his Persian disciple Jāmī, this complex of ideas may have resurfaced in 17th century China.

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