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Abhidharma Sanskrit or Abhidhamma Pali are ancient 3rd century BCE and later Buddhist texts which contain detailed scholastic presentations of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist sutras.

It also refers to the scholastic method itself as well as the field of knowledge that this method is said to study. Bhikkhu Bodhi calls it "an abstract and highly technical systemization of the [Buddhist] doctrine," which is "simultaneously a philosophy , a psychology and an ethics , all integrated into the framework of a program for liberation.

There are different types of Abhidharma literature. The early canonical Abhidharma works like the Abhidhamma Pitaka are not philosophical treatises, but mainly summaries and expositions of early doctrinal lists with their accompaning explanations. They are more developed philosophical works which include many innovations and doctrines not found in the canonical Abhidharma.

The Belgian Indologist Etienne Lamotte described the Abhidharma as "Doctrine pure and simple, without the intervention of literary development or the presentation of individuals" [6] Compared to the colloquial sutras , Abhidharma texts are much more technical, analytic and systematic in content and style.

According to Collett Cox, Abhidhamma started as a systematic elaboration of the teachings of the suttas, but later developed independent doctrines.

Two interpretations of the term "Abhi-dharma" are common. In this sense, abhi has the meaning of "about" or "concerning," and can also been in the parallel term abhivinaya which just means discussions about the vinaya. Some in the West have considered the Abhidhamma to be the core of what is referred to as " Buddhism and psychology ". Cousins , the suttas deal with sequences and processes, while the Abhidhamma describes occasions and events.

Modern scholars generally believe that the canonical Abhidharma texts emerged after the time of the Buddha, in around the 3rd century BCE. Therefore, the canonical Abhidharma works are generally claimed by scholars not to represent the words of the Buddha himself, but those of later Buddhists.

The various Vinaya accounts of the compilation of the Buddhist canon after the death of the Buddha offer various sometimes conflicting narratives regarding the canonical status of Abhidharma. What this means is that besides the small number of fundamental doctrinal statements, the Buddha's sermons also contain a quantity of doctrinal concepts. The most suitable form for collecting and preserving these concepts would have been com-prehensive lists. Analayo notes that these various lists served a useful purpose in early Buddhism since they served as aids for the memorization and teaching of the doctrine.

He also points out another such list that occurs in various texts "comprises several groups of elements of import for entanglement in the cycle of existence" and was modeled on the Oghavagga of the Samyuttanikaya. The explanations of the various elements in these lists also dealt with how these elements were connected samprayogah with each other.

Over time, the initial scholastic method of listing and categorizing terms was expanded in order to provide a complete and comprehensive systematization of the doctrine. According to Analayo, the beginning of Abhidharma proper was inspired by the desire "to be as comprehensive as possible, to supplement the directives given in the early discourses for progress on the path with a full picture of all aspects of the path in an attempt to provide a complete map of everything in some way related to the path.

According to Analayo, these various lists were also not presented alone, but included some kind of commentary and explanation which was also part of the oral tradition. Sometimes this commentary included quotations from other sutras, and traces of this can be found in the canonical Abhidharma texts.

As time passed, these commentaries and their accompaning lists became inseparable from each other, and the commentaries gained canonical status. Therefore, the different Buddhist Abhidharma texts were developed over time as Buddhists expanded their analytical methods in different ways. Since this happened in different communities located in different places, they developed in separate doctrinal directions. This divergence was perhaps enhanced by the various schisms in the Buddhist community and also by geographic distance.

According to Frauwallner, the period of the development of the canonical Abhidharma works is between to 50 BCE. These differences are much more pronounced than among the other canonical collections Sutras, Agamas and Vinaya. As such, the Abhidharma collections of the various schools are much more unique to each sect.

Thus, according to Frauwallner, the different Abhidharma canons contained collections of doctrines which were sometimes unrelated to each other and sometimes contradictory. These various Abhidhammic theories were together with differences in Vinaya some of the various causes for the splits in the monastic Sangha , which resulted in the fragmented early Buddhist landscape of the Early Buddhist Schools.

These various Abhidharma works were not accepted by all Indian Buddhist schools as canonical, for example, the Mahasanghika school seems not to have accepted them as part of the canon. As Noa Ronkin writes, "post-canonical Abhidharma texts became complex philosophical treatises employing sophisticated methods of argumentation and independent investigations that resulted in doctrinal conclusions quite far removed from their canonical antecedents.

Some of these texts surpassed the canonical Abhidharma in influence and popularity, becoming the orthodox summas of their particular schools' Abhidharma. Two exegetical texts, both from the 5th century, stand above the rest as the most influential. Only after his death was the Abhidharma compiled systematically by his elder disciples and was recited by Ananda at the first Buddhist council.

However, this school still studied and debated on Abhidharma concepts and thus did not seek to question the method of the Abhidharma in its entirety. Religion portal. The Abhidharma texts' field of inquiry extends to the entire Buddhadharma , since their goal was to outline, systematize and analyze all of the teachings. Abhidharmic thought also extends beyond the sutras to cover new philosophical and psychological ground which is only implicit in sutras or not present at all. There are certain doctrines which were developed or even invented by the Abhidharmikas and these became grounds for the debates among the different Early Buddhist schools.

The "base upon which the entire [Abhidhamma] system rests" is the 'dhamma theory' and this theory 'penetrated all the early schools'. This concept has been variously translated as "factors" Collett Cox , "psychic characteristics" Bronkhorst , [59] "phenomena" Nyanaponika and "psycho-physical events" Ronkin. The early Buddhist scriptures give various lists of the constituents of the person such as the five skandhas, the six or 18 dhatus , and the twelve sense bases.

The idea was to create an exhaustive list of all possible phenomena that make up the world. The conventional reality of substantial objects and persons is merely a conceptual construct imputed by the mind on a flux of dhammas. Perception and thinking is then seen as a combination of various dhammas. Cittas awareness events are never experienced on their own, but are always intentional and hence accompanied by various mental factors cetasikas , in a constantly flowing stream of experience occurrences.

Human experience is thus explained by a series of dynamic processes and their patterns of relationships with each other. Buddhist Abhidhamma philosophers then sought to explain all experience by creating lists and matrices matikas of these dhammas, which varied by school.

The four categories of dhammas in the Theravada Abhidhamma are: [64]. The Sarvastivadas also included three dharmas in the fourth "unconditioned" category instead of just one, the dharma of space and two states of cessation. The Abhidharma project was thus to provide a completely exhaustive account of every possible type of conscious experience in terms of its constituent factors and their relations.

The Theravada tradition holds that there were 82 types of possible dhammas — 82 types of occurrences in the experiential world, while the general Sarvastivada tradition eventually enumerated 75 dharma types. For the Abhidharmikas, truth was twofold and there are two ways of looking at reality.

One way is the way of everyday experience and of normal worldly persons. As the Indian Buddhist Vasubandhu writes: "Anything the idea of which does not occur upon division or upon mental analysis, such as an object like a pot, that is a 'conceptual fiction'.

The ultimately real is otherwise. The ultimate goal of the Abhidharma is Nirvana and hence the Abhidharmikas systematized dhammas into those which are skillful kusala , purify the mind and lead to liberation, and those which are unskillful and do not. The Abhidharma then has a soteriological purpose, first and foremost and its goal is to support Buddhist practice and meditation. By carefully watching the coming and going of dhammas, and being able to identify which ones are wholesome and to be cultivated, and which ones are unwholesome and to be abandoned, the Buddhist meditator makes use of the Abhidharma as a schema to liberate his mind and realize that all experiences are impermanent, not-self, unsatisfactory and therefore not to be clung to.

This term was used in different ways by the different Buddhist schools. This term does not appear in the sutras. The examination of these characteristics was held to be extremely important, the Sarvastivada Mahavibhasa states "Abhidharma is [precisely] the analysis of the svalaksana and samanya-laksana of dharmas". According to Peter Harvey, the Theravadin view of dharmas was that "'They are dhammas because they uphold their own nature [sabhaava].

They are dhammas because they are upheld by conditions or they are upheld according to their own nature' Asl. Here 'own-nature' would mean characteristic nature, which is not something inherent in a dhamma as a separate ultimate reality, but arise due to the supporting conditions both of other dhammas and previous occurrences of that dhamma.

The Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa , the most influential classical Theravada treatise, states that not-self does not become apparent because it is concealed by "compactness" when one does not give attention to the various elements which make up the person.

They are mere states dhamma occurring due to conditions and void. In this way the characteristic of not-self becomes more evident. The Sarvastivadins saw dharmas as the ultimately 'real entities' sad-dravya , though they also held that dharmas were dependently originated. For the Sarvastivadins, a synonym for svabhava is avayaya a 'part' , the smallest possible unit which cannot be analyzed into smaller parts and hence it is ultimately real as opposed to only conventionally real such as a chariot or a person.

They are dependent on others. The concern here is primarily with what makes categorial types of dharma unique, rather than with the ontological status of dharmas. Other Abhidharma schools did not accept the svabhava concept. The Vainasikas held that all dharmas were without svabhava. Another important project for the Abhidharmikas was to outline a theory of causality , especially of how momentary dharmas relate to each other through causes and conditions. The Sarvastivadin analysis focused on six causes hetu , four conditions pratyaya and five effects phala.

According to K. The six causes outlined by the Sarvastivada are: [74]. In the Mahavibhasa treatment of dependent origination, four different types are outlined: [75]. The Sarvastivada Vibhasa-sastrins accepted only static dependent origination [75]. The last book of the Pali Abhidhamma, the Patthana , sets out the main Theravada theory on conditioned relations and causality. The Patthana is an exhaustive examination of the conditioned nature Paticcasamupada of all dhammas.

The introduction begins with a detailed list of 24 specific types of conditioned relationships paccaya that may pertain between different factors.

The Pali Abhidhammatthasangaha reduces them all to four main types. A prominent argument between the Abhidharmikas was on the Philosophy of time. This argument was so central, that north Indian Buddhist schools were often named according to their philosophical position. According to Vasubandhu :. Those, on the other hand, who hold that some exist, viz. They also held that only mental events were momentary, material events could endure for longer. A key problem which the Abhidharmikas wished to tackle was the question of how rebirth and karma works if there is no self to be reborn apart from the five aggregates.

The Patthana includes the earliest Pali canonical reference to an important answer to this question: bhavanga , or 'life-continuum'. Bhavanga, literally, "the limb on which existence occurs" is 'that substratum which maintains the continuity of the individual throughout that life. They also often used other terms to refer to this real 'self', such as ' Atman ' and ' Jiva ' which are words for the immortal soul in Hinduism and Jainism respectively. This was a radically different view than the not-self view held by the mainstream Buddhist schools and this theory was a major point of controversy and was thoroughly attacked by other Buddhist schools such as the Theravadins, Sarvastivadins and later Mahayanists.

The Sarvastivadin Abhidharmikas also developed the novel idea of an intermediate state between death and the next rebirth.


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