Abhidharma school, 毘曇宗 (Skt; Chin P’i-t’an-tsung; Jpn Bidon-shu)
Also known as the P'i-t'an school. One of the so-called thirteen schools of Chinese Buddhism, the Abhidharma school prospered in northern China during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (439-589). It based its teachings on abhidharma works such as Dharmashri's Heart of the Abhidharma and Dharmatrata's Supplement to "The Heart of the Abhidharma." Hence the name of the Abhidharma school. P'i-t'an
is the Chinese transliteration of abhidharma. The Sanskrit term abhidharma means doctrinal commentary, one of the three divisions of the Buddhist canon, the other two being sutras and vinaya (rules of monastic discipline). The twenty Hinayana schools
in India, particularly the Sarvastivada, produced abhidharma works. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties period in China,
they were regarded as essential references on Buddhist doctrine. Later in the seventh century, when Hsüan-tsang translated The Dharma Analysis Treasury, The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma, and other abhidharma works into Chinese, the Dharma Analysis Treasury (Chy-she) school absorbed the rapidly declining Abhidharma school.
This Chinese school flourished in the initial period of contact with Buddhism, especially during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (420–589 C.E.). It emphasized study and practice based on the works of the ABHIDHARMA, the commentary portion of the Buddhist canon.
Specifically, the school taught that all DHARMAS are real and that they are produced by a combination of six primary and four subsidiary causes. Followers of the Abhidharma school studied such works from the early 18 schools of Buddhism as Dharmaratna’s The Heart of the Abhidharma. The school later declined and was absorbed into the Zhushe (in Japanese, Kosa) school in the seventh century.
The importance of the Abhidharma school reflects the emphasis placed on study of Abhidharma literature in the early phase of Chinese Buddhism. Once Chinese Buddhists attempted their own interpretations of the Buddhist corpus of learning, such new Mahayana schools as CHAN and TIAN TAI absorbed the energies of Chinese thinkers.