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The Abhidhammapitaka

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Basket of Transcendental Doctrine


Vol. 1, No. 3, 1981

        The Full Moon Day of Thadingyut is of special significance to the Buddhists not because it is the end of the Rain-retreat (Vassa ), but because it is one of the highlights of the most important events of the life of Gotama Buddha.

        According to Buddhist chronicle the Tathagata or Buddha, the Enlightened One, went to the Tavatimsa Heaven to preach Abhidhamma (Higher Subtleties of the Dhamma) to His mother, who passed away seven days after His birth, had been reborn at the Tavatimsa as a Deva, called Santussita. The Buddha propounded Abhidhamma for the first time there in the presence of Santussita and other Devas. At the end of the Rain retreat (Vassa) - the last day of the Buddhist Lent, i.e. on the Full Moon - Day of Thadingyut, the Tathagata descended to earth (to human abode) at the city of Sankassa, about 2563 years ago.

        So, the Full Moon Day of Thadingyut has a great significance and Buddhists celebrate not only as a day of the Festival of Lights, but also as a day of the preaching of the Abhidhamma which gives intellectual and spiritual light to many a being, human and celestial, ever since that memorable visit of the Tathagata the Enlightened One to the Tavatimsa heaven.


        Dr. Sukumar Dutt, one of the prominent scholars of Buddhist Philosophy, said: "Buddhism is not only a living religion, but one that gives signs of a fresh vitality and impulse. The traditional division of a Theravada Buddhist canon is in three parts, - Sutta, Vinaya and Abhidhamma. The Abhidhamma Pitaka is the third and last of the Pitakas or Baskets, Containing seven separate works." The Abhidhamma, in Kenneth K.S. Ch'en's words, is concerned with phenomena, and for the purpose of describing phenomena, it uses two methods, analysis and investigating the relations of things. The relations of things are treated in minute details to show that even in a single moment of consciousness there is involved a multiplicity of factors. A moment of consciousness is therefore considered in its relation with all its factors, functions, and energies, as well as its external relations to other moments of consciousness. Abhidhamma Pitaka is composed of the following works:

        Dhamma-Sangani (Classification of Dhammas or Collection of Dhammas)

        Vibhanga (The Book of Analysis).

        Dhatukatha (Discourse on Elements).

        Puggala-Pannatti (Designation of individuals, or Identification of Individuals).

        Katha-Vatthu (Points of Controversy)

       Yamaka (The Book of Pairs).

       Patthana (The Book of Causal Relations).

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       In our land of pagodas, the Sangha as well as the laity set great store upon the complex field of human thought, which is mainly concerned with the nature of consciousness and what is now called psychology. In Christmas Hamphreys' well-known work, "Buddhism," the author comparatively said as follows: "The Siamese claim that their Sangha leads in the Vinaya Pitaka, the Rules of the Order, the Sinhalese Sangha concentrates on the Sutta Pitaka, the teachings of the Buddha. The Burmese Sangha, as the visitor will be told a dozen times before he is a week in the country, is the master of the Abhidhamma, the complex mixture of metaphysics, psychology and mind-development. He also added that Burma has been for the last 1000 years, a strong hold, like Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Siam (Thailand), of the Theravada School."

        The Theravada claim is that its own system of Abhidhamma is based on the Lord's own teaching method. It is the situation envisaged in a legend in which the Tathagata calls upon his disciples to school themselves in the cardinal doctrines of the religion: -the four themes for Mindfulness (Satipatthana) , the five Bases for Psychic Power (Iddhipada), the five-fold Controls Indriya , the five powers (Bala) , the seven Constituents of Wisdom (Bojjhanga) and the Noble Eightfold Path (Magganga).

       The main theme of the Abhidhamma is the explication of doctrines and the first book listed in this section of the Theravada Pali canon is typical. This work is Dhammasangani (Collections of Dhammas). It has four main topics, dealing with: Consciousness (Citta), Matter (Rupa), Summary (Nikkhepa) and Elucidation (Atthuddhara) . A commentary by Anuruddha Thera, called Abhidhammattha Sangaha, was translated by U Shwe Zan Aung, entitled, "Compendium of Philosophy." "The method of the book," says Mrs. Rhys Davids; "is explicative, deductive, its object was, not to add to the Dhamma, but to unfold the orthodox import of terms in use among the body of the faithful, and by organizing and systematizing the aggregate of doctrinal concepts, to render the learner's intellect both clear and efficient."

        Of the seven books in the Abhidhamma, as Kenneth K.S. Ch'en says in his book (Buddhism - the light of Asia), probably the most important is the Kathavatthu, translated as 'Points of Controversy'. It enjoys the unique distinction of being the only text in the Pali Canon ascribed to a particular author, Moggaliputta Tissa, who, as president of the third council during the reign of Asoka, was commissioned to write the work as a refutation of heresies which had cropped up.

        In the Puggalapannatti (Designation of Person-types or Identification of Individuals), the nature of the Buddha-personality is already mooted. Also men and women are considered and classified from the ethical of view. It deals mainly with various types of individuals. Another work known as Dhatu Katha (Discourse on Elements) is on the basis of character and discuss the mental characteristics. Venerable Aggamahapandita Mula Patthana Sayadaw U Narada translates this work into English. Vibhanga (The Book of Analysis) one of the seven books of Abhidhamma Pitaka, consists of three parts; they are Suttanta explanation, Abhidhamma explanation and a Catechism; and the English translation is by Venerable Aggamahapandita Sayadaw U Thittila. The sixth book of this section, Yamaka, is divided into ten chapters and it is termed as the Book of Pairs owing to its method of treatment: questions and their replies grouped together.

       The seventh and last of the works of Abhidhamma is Patthana (The Book of Causal Relations), the most important and the most voluminous work, dealing with the twenty-four modes of causal relations. It is translated into English by the same translator of Dhatu Katha.

        I Would like to conclude this very brief account of Abhidhamma by quoting a few words from Venerable Aggamahapandita Narada Thera's article, "Abhidhamma was expounded by the Buddha" in W.F.B. Review: "When Sariputta, based on the methods given by the Buddha, preached Abhidhamma to his pupils, the Buddha not only stated that He had expounded the Abhidhamma in Tavatimsa but also narrated this to Sariputta to be left behind as evidence of having done so for the later generation.