Abhidhamma Pitaka
By Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada - From the book "What Buddhist Believe"
The Abhidharma is, to a deep thinker, the most important and interesting collection, as it contains the profound philosophy and psychology of the Buddha's teaching in contrast to the illuminating but conventional discourses in the SUTRA PITAKA .

In the SUTRA PITAKA one often finds references to individual, being, etc., but in the Abhidharma, instead of such conventional terms, we meet with ultimate terms, such as aggregates, mind, matter, etc.

In the Sutra is found the Vohara Desana (Conventional Teaching), whilst in the ABHIDHARMA is found the Paramattha Desana (Ultimate Doctrine). In the ABHIDHARMA everything is analysed and explained in detail, and as such it is called analytical doctrine (Vibhajja Vada).

Four ultimate, supramundane subjects (Paramattha) are enumerated in the ABHIDHARMA . They are Citta, (Consciousness), Cetasika (Mental concomitants), Rupa (Matter) and Nirvana.

The so-called being is microscopically analysed and its component parts are minutely described. Finally the ultimate goal and the method to achieve it is explained with all necessary details.

The ABHIDHARMA PITAKA is composed of the following works:

1. DHAMMA -SANGANI (Enumeration of Phenomena)
2. VIBHANGA (The Book of the Treatises)
3. KATHA VATTHU (Point of Controversy)
4. PUGGALA PANNATTI (Description of Individuals)
5. DHATU KATHA (Discussion with reference to Elements)
6. YAMAKA (The Book of Pairs)
7. PATTHANA (The Book of Relations)

According to another classification, mentioned by the Buddha Himself, the whole Teaching is ninefold, namely—1. Sutra, 2. Geyya, 3. Yeyyakarama, 4. Gatha, 5. Udana, 6. Itivuttaka, 7. Jataka, 8. Abbhutadhamma, 9. Vedalla.

1. Sutra — These are the short, medium, and long discourses expounded by the Buddha on various occasions, such as M ANGALA S UTRA (Discourse on Blessings), R ATANA SUTRA (The Jewel Discourse), M ETTA S UTRA (Discourse on Goodwill), etc. According to the Commentary the Vinaya is also included in this division.
2. Geyya — These are discourses mixed with Gathas or verses, such as the S AGATHAVAGGA of the S AMYUTTA N IKAYA .
3. VEYYAKARANA Lit. exposition. The whole ABHIDHARMA PITAKA , discourses without verses, and everything that is not included in the remaining eight divisions belong to this class.
4. GATHA These include verses found in the DHAMMAPADA (Way of Truth), THERAGATHA (Psalms of the Brethren), THERIGATHA (Psalms of the Sisters), and those isolated verses which are not classed amongst the Sutra.
5. UDANA These are the ‘Paeans of Joy' found in the UDANA , one of the divisions of the KHUDDAKA N IKAYA .
6. ITIVUTTAKA These are the 112 discourses which commence with the phrase ‘Thus the Blessed One has said'. ITIVUTTAKA is one of the fifteen books that comprise the KHUDDAKA N IKAYA .
7. JATAKA These are the 547 birth-stories related by the Buddha in connection with His previous births.
8. ABBHUTA DHAMMA These are the few discourses that deal with wonderful and marvellous things, as for example the ACCHARIYA -ABBHUTA DHAMMA SUTRA of the MAJJHIMA NIKAYA (No. 123)
9. VEDALLA These are the pleasurable discourses, such as CHULLA VEDALLA , MAHA VEDALLA (M.N. Nos 43, 44), SAMMA DITTHI SUTRA (M.N. No. 9), etc. In some of these discourses, the answers given to certain questions were put with a feeling of joy.
What is Abhidharma?
Abhidharma is the analytical doctrine of mental faculties and elements.

THE ABHIDHARMA PITAKA contains the profound moral psychology and philosophy of the Buddha's teaching in contrast to the moral discourses in the SUTRA PITAKA . The knowledge gained from the Sutra can certainly help us in overcoming our difficulties, as well as in developing our moral conduct and training the mind. Having such knowledge will enable one to lead a life which is peaceful, respectable, harmless and noble. By listening to the discourses, we develop understanding of the Dharma and can mould our daily lives accordingly. The concepts behind certain words and terms used in the SUTRA PITAKA are, however, subject to changes and should be interpreted within the context of the social environment prevailing at the Buddha's time. The concepts used in the Sutra are like the conventional words and terms lay people use to express scientific subjects. While concepts in the Sutra are to be understood in the conventional sense, those used in the Abhidharma must be understood in the ultimate sense. The concepts expressed in the Abhidharma are like the precise scientific or technical words and terms used by scientists to prevent misinterpretations.

It is only in the Abhidharma that explanations are given on how and at which mental beats a person can create good and bad karmic thoughts, according to his or her desires and other mental states. Clear explanations of the nature of the different mental faculties and precise analytical interpretations of the elements can be found in this important collection of discourses.

Understanding the Dharma through the knowledge gained from the Sutra is like the knowledge acquired from studying the prescriptions for different types of sicknesses. Such knowledge when applied can certainly help to cure certain types of sicknesses. On the other hand, a qualified physician, with precise knowledge, can diagnose a wider range of sicknesses and discover their causes. This specialized knowledge provides a better position to prescribe more effective remedies. Similarly, a person who has studied the Abhidharma can better understand the nature of the mind and analyse the mental attitudes which cause a human being to commit mistakes and develop the will to avoid evil.

The Abhidharma teaches that the egoistic beliefs and other concepts such as ‘I', ‘you', ‘person' and ‘the world' , which we use in daily conversation, do not adequately describe the real nature of existence. The conventional concepts do not reflect the fleeting nature of pleasures, uncertainties, impermanence of every component thing, and the conflict among the elements and energies intrinsic in all animate or inanimate things. The Abhidharma doctrine gives a clear exposition of the ultimate nature of human beings and brings the analysis of the human condition further than other studies known to them.

The Abhidharma deals with realities existing in the ultimate sense, or paramattha dhamma in Pali. There are four such realities:

1. Citta, mind or consciousness, defined as ‘that which knows or experiences' an object. Citta occurs as distinct momentary states of consciousness.
2. Cetasika, the mental factors that arise and occur along with the citta.
3. Rupa, physical phenomenon or material form.
4. Nirvana, the unconditioned state of bliss which is the final goal.

Citta, the cetasika, and rupa are conditioned realities. They arise because of conditions, and will disappear when the conditions sustaining them cease to continue to do so. They are impermanent states. Nirvana, on the other hand, is an unconditioned reality. It does not arise and, therefore, does not fall away. These four realities can be experienced regardless of the names we may choose to give them. Other than these realities, everything—be they within ourselves or without, whether in the past, present or future, whether coarse or subtle, low or lofty, far or near—is a concept and not the ultimate reality.

Citta, cetasika, and Nirvana are also called nama. Nirvana is an unconditioned nama. The two conditioned nama, that is, citta and cetasika, together with rupa (form), make up psychophysical organisms, including human beings. Both mind and matter, or nama-rupa, are analysed in Abhidharma as though under a microscope. Events connected with the process of birth and death are explained in detail. The Abhidharma clarifies intricate points of the Dharma and enables the arising of an understanding of reality, thereby setting forth in clear terms the Path of Emancipation. The realization we gain from the Abhidharma with regard to our lives and the world is not to be understood in a conventional sense, but is an absolute reality.

The clear exposition of thought processes found in the Abhidharma cannot be found in any other psychological treatise either in the east or west. Consciousness is defined, while thoughts are analysed and classified mainly from an ethical standpoint. The composition of each type of consciousness is set forth in detail. The fact that consciousness flows like a stream, a view propounded by psychologists like William James, becomes extremely clear to one who understands the Abhidharma. In addition, a student of Abhidharma can fully comprehend the Anatta (No-soul) doctrine, which is important both from a philosophical as well as ethical standpoint.

The Abhidharma explains the process of rebirth in various planes after the occurrence of death without anything to pass from one life to another. This explanation provides support to the doctrine of Karma and Rebirth. It also gives a wealth of details about the mind, as well as the units of mental and material forces, properties of matter, sources of matter, relationship of mind and matter.

In the ABHIDHAMMATTHA SANGAHA , a manual of Abhidharma, there is a brief exposition of the ‘Law of Dependent Origination', followed by a descriptive account of the Causal Relations which finds no parallel in any other study of the human condition anywhere else in the world. Because of its analytics and profound expositions, the Abhidharma is not a subject of fleeting interest designed for the superficial reader.

To what extent can we compare modern psychology with the analysis provided in the Abhidharma? Modern psychology, limited as it is, comes within the scope of Abhidharma in so far as it deals with the mind—with thoughts, thought processes, and mental states. The difference lies in the fact that Abhidharma does not accept the concept of a psyche or a soul.

The analysis of the nature of the mind given in the Abhidharma is not available through any other source. Even modern psychologists are very much in the dark with regards to subjects like mental impulses or mental beats (Javana Citta) as discussed in the Abhidharma. Dr. Graham Howe, an eminent Harley Street psychologist, wrote in his book, THE INVISIBLE ANATOMY :

In the course of their work many psychologists have found, as the pioneer work of C.G. Jung has shown, that ‘we are near to [the] Buddha. To read a little Buddhism is to realise that the Buddhists knew two thousand five hundred years ago far more about our modern problems of psychology than they have yet been given credit for. They studied these problems long ago, and found the answers too. We are now rediscovering the Ancient Wisdom of the East.'

Some scholars assert that the Abhidharma is not the teaching of the Buddha, but it grew out of the commentaries on the basic teachings of the Buddha. These commentaries are said to be the work of great scholar monks. Tradition, however, attributes the nucleus of the Abhidharma to the Buddha Himself.

Commentators state that the Buddha, as a mark of gratitude to His mother who was born as a deva in a celestial plane, preached the Abhidharma to her together with other devas continuously for three months. The principal topics (matika) of the advanced teaching, such as moral states (kusala dharma) and immoral states (akusala dharma), were then repeated by the Buddha to Venerable Sariputta Thera, who subsequently elaborated them and later compiled them into six books.

From ancient times there were controversies as to whether the Abhidharma was really taught by the Buddha. While this discussion may be interesting for academic purposes, what is important is for us to experience and understand the realities described in the Abhidharma. One will realize for oneself that such profound and consistently verifiable truths can only emanate from a supremely enlightened source—from a Buddha. Much of what is contained in the Abhidharma is also found in the SUTRA PITAKA , and such sermons had never been heard until they were first uttered by the Buddha. Therefore, those who claim that the Buddha was not the source of the Abhidharma would have to say the same thing about the Sutra. Such a statement, of course, cannot be supported by evidence.

According to the Theravada tradition, the essence, fundamentals and framework of the Abhidharma are ascribed to the Buddha although the tabulations and classifications may have been the work of later disciples. What is important is the essence. It is this that we would try to experience for ourselves. The Buddha Himself clearly took this stand of using the knowledge of the Abhidharma to clarify many existing psychological, metaphysical and philosophical problems. Mere intellectual quibbling about whether the Buddha taught the Abhidharma or not will not help us to understand reality.

The question is also raised whether the Abhidharma is essential for Dharma practice. The answer to this will depend on the individual who undertakes the practice. People vary in their levels of under­standing, their temperaments and spiritual development. Ideally, all the different spiritual faculties should be harmonized, but some people are quite contented with devotional practices based on faith, while others are keen on developing penetrative insight. The Abhidharma is most useful to those who want to understand the Dharma in greater depth and detail. It aids the development of insight into the three characteristics of existence—impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-self. It is useful not only for the periods devoted to formal meditation, but also during the rest of the day when we are engaged in various mundane chores. We derive great benefit from the study of the Abhidharma when we experience absolute reality. In addition, a comprehensive knowledge of the Abhidharma is useful for those engaged in teaching and explaining the Dharma. In fact the real meaning of the most important Buddhist terminologies such as Dharma, Karma, Samsara, Sankhara, Paticca Samuppada and Nirvana cannot be understood without a knowledge of Abhidharma.

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