THE TEACHING OF ABHIDHAMMA
A Brief Study of Its Salient Features
Q. What is
A. Abhidhamma is one
of the main portions of the Buddhist scriptures dealing with psychology of
beings, analysing the mind, its associated factors like emotions and thoughts,
how they are formed and how can we purify or become impurified. For example,
Abhidhamma would analyse anger and its components, its conditions and its
cessation without blaming someone who is angry but studying anger very
Q. What is the benefit
for a lay person in Abhidhamma study?
A. You learn to identify
emotions and thoughts objectively without creating or increasing ego in them.
Thus, you are able to let go of your anger, for instance and free yourself from
a burden of having to carry in your mind your anger. Anger is a burden, thus
causes stress to all. Once you have successfully identified your emotion, you
are in a position to master it. This is good in daily life as we all have
emotions, thoughts and judgemental minds.
Salient Features of Abhidhamma
Abhidhamma provides lists of
things as far as beings are concerned, and not only that but also the functions
of those in the lists as well.
Being a systematised
presentation, you know by now that Abhidhamma articulates simultaneously a
philosophy, a psychology, an ethic - all integrated into the framework of a
programme for liberation from suffering.
The world appears to many as
unitary but is indeed multiple in its components and functions. This is what
Abhidhamma talks about. With analysis and synthesis, Abhidhamma is coherent,
philosophical and systematic.
Abhidhamma is also a
clarification of all the discourses found in the Sutta-pitaka. The Sutta
-pitaka itself is full of interpretations as they were delivered to different
people with different tastes; as such Sutta-pitaka is as diverse as human
beings can be. Abhidhamma approaches the matter in a unified way without any
compromise to the tastes of individuals.
Its main subjects -
consciousness (Citta), its associates (Cetasika), physical matter (Rupa) and
Nibbana - are termed Ultimate Realities as they cannot be further
analysed, not because they exist forever.
Take for an example, a man
" John". He can be analysed as a manager, an energetic man, as a
family man etc. However, all the analyses are not final but can be broken
further more into details. Abhidhamma would analyse him momentarily: (a) what
kind of consciousness exists in him in a particular moment, (b) what factors
are colouring that consciousness, (c) how that thought-process happens and
ends, and (d) what are the conditions of that consciousness. This is final
analysis that cannot be further reduced, hence ultimate reality.
The terms used in Abhidhamma
are technical, not daily conventional ones. Therefore the terms employed in it
are beyond nations, colour, gender and social status. For this and for all the
subject matters are common to all, Abhidhamma is universal in its approach and
Abhidhamma especially tries
to prove that there are only phenomena in the world, nothing else hidden behind
them - whatever people may want to imagine and call it like Brahma, God or
soul. This is what is known as non-soul or no-self (anatta) doctrine.
To see if ego or self really
exists, Abhidhamma analyses all we can find under our eyes or perceive through
Difference from modern psychology
The difference from modern
psychology is that Abhidhamma sets out to analyse "beings" - sentient
and non-sentient- with a clear purpose that is to find out the causes of
suffering and remove them so that we live happily as long as we live.
Therefore, Abhidhamma has Nibbana as its ethical framework.
Abhidhamma also studies a
close relationship between mind and matter.
Related articles for further reading selected by the
(Next Week: "The Order of
Sangha" by Ven. Dhammarakkhita)