Epistemological Parallels between the Nikayas and the Upanisads


  • Stephen A. Evans Mahachulalongkorn University, Bangkok (retired)




Nikāyas, Upaniṣads, epistemology, ethics


What does it mean to ‘know’ in the Nikayas such that simply ‘knowing’ certain things ‘as they really are’ has the power to liberate one from samsara? In an effort to characterize such ‘knowing’ while minimizing the projection of modern-western presuppositions, the present paper explores parallels between concepts of transformational and liberating knowledge in the Nikayas and the early Upanisads in an effort to identify epistemological presuppositions current in ancient India. The characterization is contrasted with modern-western common sense notions of factual knowledge in order to highlight features that we may tend to miss or to overlook. It is argued that for the authors of both sets of literature, ordinary opinion is deluded while genuine knowledge holds directly effective power, and that transformative knowledge is a reflexive mode of comportment towards the known, concerned as much with relations as with the entities related. This understanding helps to account for the transformative power of ‘knowledge’ and may have implications for the ways we interpret central doctrines.

Author Biography

Stephen A. Evans, Mahachulalongkorn University, Bangkok (retired)

Stephen Evans is an independent researcher.


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How to Cite

Evans, S. A. (2012). Epistemological Parallels between the Nikayas and the Upanisads. Buddhist Studies Review, 29(1), 121–137. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsrv.v29i1.121