The seven books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the third division of the
Tipitaka , offer an extraordinarily detailed analysis of the basic
principles governing the behavior of mental and physical processes.
Whereas the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas are characterized by their practical
teachings regarding the Buddhist path to Awakening, the Abhidhamma Pitaka
presents an almost scientific analysis of the underpinnings of that very
path. In Abhidhamma philosophy the familiar psycho-physical universe (our
world of "trees" and "rocks," "I" and "you") is reduced to a complex --
but comprehensible -- web of impersonal phenomena arising and passing at
an inconceivably rapid pace from moment to moment, according to
clearly-defined natural laws.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka has a well-deserved reputation for being dense
and difficult reading, yet many find its descriptions of the inner
workings of the mind to be a valuable aid to meditation practice. The
modern Burmese approach to the teaching and practice of Satipatthana
meditation, in particular, draws heavily on an Abhidhammic interpretation
of meditative experience.
According to one tradition, the essence of Abhidhamma philosophy was
formulated by the Buddha during the fourth week after his Enlightenment,
although scholars debate its authenticity as a work by the Buddha himself.
Regardless of its authorship, however, the Abhidhamma stands as a
monumental feat of intellectual genius.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka is divided into seven books, although it is the
first (Dhammasangani) and last (Patthana) that together form the essence
of the Abhidhamma teachings. The seven books are:
- Dhammasangani ("Enumeration of Phenomena"). This book
enumerates all the paramattha dhamma (ultimate realities) to be
found in the world. According to one such enumeration these amount to:
- 52 cetasikas (mental factors), which, arising together in
various combination, give rise to any one of...
- ...89 different possible cittas (states of consciousness)
- 4 primary physical elements, and 23 physical phenomena derived
- Vibhanga ("The Book of Treatises"). This book continues the
analysis of the Dhammasangani, here in the form of a catechism.
- Dhatukatha ("Discussion with Reference to the Elements"). A
reiteration of the foregoing, in the form of questions and answers.
- Puggalapaññatti ("Description of Individuals"). Somewhat out
of place in the Abhidhamma Pitaka, this book contains descriptions of a
number of personality-types.
- Kathavatthu ("Points of Controversy"). Another odd inclusion
in the Abhidhamma, this book contains questions and answers that were
compiled by Moggaliputta Tissa in the 3rd century BCE, in order to help
clarify points of controversy that existed between the various "Hinayana"
schools of Buddhism at the time.
- Yamaka ("The Book of Pairs"). This book is a logical analysis
of many concepts presented in the earlier books. In the words of Mrs.
Rhys Davids, an eminent 20th century Pali scholar, the ten chapters of
the Yamaka amount to little more than "ten valleys of dry bones."
- Patthana ("The Book of Relations"). This book, by far the
longest single volume in the Tipitaka (over 6,000 pages long in the
Siamese edition), describes the 24 paccayas, or laws of
conditionality, through which the dhammas interact. These laws,
when applied in every possible permutation with the dhammas
described in the Dhammasangani, give rise to all knowable experience.
Note: At present there are no texts from the Abhidhamma Pitaka
available here at Access to Insight, nor do I currently plan to include
them in the future.
For further reading:
- Guide Through the Abhidhamma Pitaka, by Nyanatiloka Mahathera
(Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1983).
- A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Abhidhamma Sangaha of
Acariya Anuruddha, Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed. (Kandy: Buddhist Publication
Society, 1993). This book should be required reading for every
Abhidhamma student, as it gives a remarkably lucid and insightful
overview of Abhidhamma philosophy. Even if you read no further than the
Introduction, your efforts will be well rewarded.
- The Psychology and Philosophy of Buddhism: An Introduction to the
Abhidhamma, by Dr. W.F. Jayasuriya (Kuala Lumpur: Buddhist
Missionary Society, 1988).
- Translations from the Pali Text Society:
- Buddhist Psychological Ethics (Dhammasangani, tr. 1900 by
C.A.F. Rhys Davids)
- The Book of Analysis (Vibhanga, tr. 1969 by Ven. U Thittila)
- Discourse on Elements (Dhatukatha, tr. 1962 Ven. U Narada)
- A Designation of Human Types (Puggalapaññati, tr. 1922 by
- Points of Controversy (Kathavatthu, tr. 1915 by S.Z. Aung
and C.A.F. Rhys Davids)
- Conditional Relations (Tika-patthana, tr. 1960? Ven. U
Update : 01-05-2002