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The Origin and History of the Abhidharma Texts

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 Introductory Section, No. 1, in the Outline of the Lectures on the Abhidharmahridaya-sastra

by Lü Ch'êng

  In Buddhist biboliotheca, the Abhidharma constitutes one of the three Pitakas. Alarge variety of its texts transmitted by different schools of Sravakayana are still extanttoday and some of them are fairly systematised works,These include the seven books transmitted by the Sarvastivadins in the North,known as the one body (i.e. The Abhidharma-jnana prasthana) and six feet (i. e. The Abhidharma-dharma skandha pada,etc.),and the seyen books transmitted by the Sthaviravadins in the South, i. e. The Dhamma-Sangani, etc. To these may be added another work of unknown sectarian origin, The Sariputrabhidharma-sastra (Comprising 5 sections). Each of them appears now an organised whole by itself, but the actual process of their coming to these forms is rather difficultto make out, not to say the interrelationship among them in the course of their development. Problems in these respects have been continuously brought under investigationsof modern scholars, but so far no definite conclusion has been reached at. Our opinion isthat a relatively rational solution for this difficult subject can only be worked out tytracing the origin and history of the Abhidharma texts themselves to the earliest stage.

  According to Buddhist tradition, the composition of Abhidbarma (meaning compar-ing the Law) to explain the teachings spoken by the Buddha dated from the Buddha's life-time. In the course of his preaching actiivties, the Buddha was sometimes obligedto speak something of explanatory nature with a view to the discrimination of the Dharmalaksana, These explanations themselves formed the earliest specimens of Abhidharma. Tradition also has it that a quantity of these explanatory sayings were Subsequently collected by Mahakatyayana, who added to them some brief expositions of hisown and compiled them into a book which he termed the abhidharma Spoken by the Buddha. This compilation he submitted to, and obtained approval from, the Buddha himself, thus forming an anthorised text for the Abhidharma (vid. Punyavibhanga,fasc.

1, and The Record of the Collection and Compilation of the Tripitaka 撰集三藏传). This is the so-called Abhidharma in Nino Divisions (九分毗昙, termed as "P'i-l"昆勒 or Pitaka in the Chinese translation of The [[Maha] prajna paramita-sastra]], fasc.

2).The topics of these nine divisions have been mentioned in yüan-tss (圆测) Commentary on the Sandhinir mocana-sutra (fasc.2 ) and the same author's Commentary on the Sutra on the Benevolent king (fasc.

1) as a quotion from Paramartha's Record of the Sastra on the Difference of Views of Schools (部执论记)。

They are: Discrimination of Sila,Discrimination of the World (loka), Discrimination of Primary and Secondary Causes (hetusand pratyayas), Discrimination of Dhatus, Discrimination of Sequent Obtainings, Discri-mination of Name-taste-sentence (name-sentence-word), Discrimination of Cumulative Concentration, Discrimination of Cumulative Karma and Discrimination of Skandhas.(Fa-pao's Commentary on the Abhidharma-kosa 具舍论法宝疏, fasc. 1,when mentioning the Abhidharma in Nine Divisions, gives a slightly different list for these topics, but his source is unknown.) The meanings of these topics may be made out by comparing para-martha's translations with their later versions done under the T'ang dynasty. For instance, the expression "Discrimination of the world" (分别说世间) employed in Paramartha's translation of The Abhidharma-kosa was rendered in the T'ang version of the same sastra as "Establishment of the world" (世施设). This will lead to the inference that the term "discrimination" in the former is corresponding to the term "establishment" in the latter.

Again, in Paramartha's translations of the Vidyanirdesa-sastra and the Laksananusara-sastra, there is the expression of "sequent obtainings" (同随得), the corresponding term of which in the T'ang versions of these same sastras is found to be indicating the cumulation of perfuming seeds, roughiy similar to "anusayas". In the Same way, the meanings of "Cumulative Concentrations" and "Cumulative Karmas" arefound to be identical with "miscellaneous samadhis" and "miscellaneous karmas" respectively, As regards the quantity of the text, according to Paramartha's account, each ofthe nine divisions comprised 6000 slokas, making a total of 54,000 slokas in the whole.The Abhidharmamahavibhasa (fasc. 74), when relating the 80000 Dharma-skandhas, i. e.the 80000 Dharma categories, says that each category contains 6000 slokas, equivalenfto the quantity of The Dharma-skandha pada-sastra. These numerals tally exactly withthe quantity of the last division of the Nine Divisions, i. e. Divisionon the Discrimination of Skandhas. This fact will enable us to discern some relationship between The Dharma-skandha pada and the Nine Divisions.

  The Abhidharma in Nine Divisions, so says the tradition, found two outstanding commentators at its earliest stage in Mandgalyayana and Sariputra. Mandgaiyayana's work took the form of running commentary, consisting of explanations or discriminations of the important doctrines; while that of Sariputra was concerned with the analysis andcategorization of the principles. These works, existing side by side somewhat like the Chinese Three "Chuan" (三传) of The Spring ana Autumn(春秋), established the rudimentary form of all later Abhidharma works. Especially important was Sariputra's commentary, in which the Buddha's sayings were grouped, according to the nature oftheir contents, under five divisions, namely, those evoked by queries, those not evoked by queries, those on the collection of dharmas, those on the union of dharmas and those on general categories. An abridged version of this book has come down to us, under thetitle of The Sariputra abhidharma-sastra.

The Abhidharma-prakarana pada tran-mitted in the Northern Branch of Buddhism was in fact a re-compilation based on this sastra. (The Abhidharama-prakaranapada, one of the principal Abhidharma worksof Northern Buddhism, was traditionally ascribed to Vasumitra;but as a matter of fact,only the Chapter on the Five Vastus was composed by him, all the resf being writings ofother commentators.) Of the text of Maudgalyayana's commentary, there surves today only The Dharma skandha pada, a portion corresponding with the last of the Nine Divisions, while those on other divisions are lost. As regards the original text of Katyayana's work, we know that The Prajāptipada of the Abhidharma transmitted in the North was in fact a modified version of it. But the Chinese translation of this pada consists of only one section, On the Establishment of Causes (Corresponding to the Discrimination of the Primary and the Secondary Causes in the Nine Divisions), besides a mere mentioning of the title of another section, On the Establishment of the World(Corresponding to the Discrimination of the World).

The Tibetan version of the same sastra, too, comprises only three sections, i. e. those on the Establishment of the world,of Causes and of Karmas (the last mentioned corresponding to the Discrimination of Cumulative Karmas in the Nine Divisions), other sections being losf. The Mahavibhasa still contains a number of quotations which are explicitly stated to have drawn from the Prajnaptipada but which are not found in either the Chinese or the Tibetan versionsof this pada. These quotations we may safely assume to be fragments of those sections now lost. Apart from these, among the Abhidharma works of Northern Buddhism extant today, there is a book entitled. The Abhidharma on the Establishment of the world (立世阿毗昙), which seems to have been a compilation of materials taken from the Division on the Discrimination of the World in the Nine Divisions. There is still another book bearing the title of The Abhidharma-sutra Spoken by the Buddha (佛说阿毗昙经), which is said to have comprised originally nine fascicles of which only twoare extant now. But, judging from the incoherence of the text, it might have been acompilation of the materials taken from the Division on the Discriminafion of Sila in the Nine Divisions.

  So far for the general survey of the origin and history of the Abhidharma texts.With this sketchy outline in our mind, it would be possible now for us to proceed withour discussion on the position of The Abhidharmabridaya in the whole range of thisclass of Buddhist literature.
  The text of the Abhidharma in Nine Divisions, which traced its origin to the Buddha, is how out of existence. Various works derived from it are only found in dispersed and fragmentary state. Moreover they present such a diversity of interpretations thatone is often at a lose to decide which should be taken for the original mearing. Fortunately we still possess this Abhidharmabridaya which is in itself a condensation of the Abhidharma in Nine Divisions, further supplemented with the essentials of othersastras in this sphere. It is indeed a summary work of the Abhidharma, a compilationof.very great value.

This sastra was composed by Dharmasresthi. As early as the Former Wei dynasty (曹魏), Western monks who came to China already spoke very highly of it. But more than one hundred years had gohe by, before a Chinese translation of the sastra itself was produced threugh the earnest arrangement of Tao-an (道安) andhis disciple Hui-yah慧远), especially the who made further revisiens on it andbrought the text to its final form with a preface written by himself (which was collec tea in The Collection of Records of the Translation of the Tripitaka 出三藏记集, fasc. 10). In this preface, Hui-yan, after giving a brief account of the translator's opinions, went on to describe the aim of this sastra, saying, "It is intended to pro-vide a compendium of varions sutras and to bring out their very essentials in relief.Therefore the author termed it as "hridaya"(heart). The author was a wore of the fact that the contents of The Abhidharma-sutra was too comprehensive and voluminous for immediate researches, and therefore he picked out what are the most essential and compiled them into this book."

From these Words it will be seen that Dharmasresthi's purpose in composing this sastra was to furuish a summary epitome for The Abhi-dharma-sutra. But Chinese scholars of the sui and T'ang dynasties. such as Chi-tsang(吉藏) and others, who did not quite understand the history or The Abhidharma-Sutra , mis-took The Abhidharmabridaya for an abridged version of The mahavibhasa. This mistake might have arisen from their ignorance of the tact that there once did exist avery voluminous Abhidharma-sutra, so that when they saw such attriutes as "comprehensive" and "voiuminous", their thoughts at once turned to The Mahavibhasa .As a matter ot fact, if we vely on Parainartha's words, The Abhtdharma-Sutra in its complete form comprised 54,000 slokas, which would surely fill more than 100 hundred fascicles when translated, even if we assign 500 slokas to one fascicie. This is aquantity greater than that of the old translation (i. e. the one produced under the Liang dynasty) of The Mahavibhasa. What Hui-yüan said in his preiace that the content sof this sastra were too comprehensive and voluminous for researchers was not withouground.

  The merit ot The Abhidharmabridaya is also conspicuous in its system of construction. The whole sastra consists of 250 slokas, arranged under ten chapters. The first eight chapers,i. e. from chapter 1, On Dhatus, to Chapter VⅢ, On the Sutra, compose the fundamental portion, bearing chapter-titles that agree with those of the Abhidharma in Nine Divisions as related by Paramartha. The only division 1eft out is that on sila The absence of this chapter might have been, in all probability, resultant from the removalof its contents by some later hand who thought it better to have them treated in the Vinaya. (The Sastra on the Amrita Taste, a compilation derived from The Abhidharma-sutra in the similar way as was The Abhidharmahridaya, still contains a chapter on sila.) The fact is that the sutras spoken by the Buddha might have envolved both the teachings on the Dharma and the disciplinary rules. There did not exist, at the beginning,such clear-cut demarcation between these two categories. For instance,

The Ekottara-gama is interspersed with vinaya matters; and the presence of these matters was once actually subjected to the censure of Tao-an, who blamed the translators for not having made due discriminations to eliminate these elements from the translation (for,according to the convention brought over from India, these matters were not to be read by srama-neras together with laymen). Anyway, this attests to the fact that the Buddhist sutras of old did contain matters concerning both the Dharma and the discipline; and it was buta natural consequencc that the composers of Abhidharma, in the course of explaining the stvas, should have explamed the disciplinary rules as well. It was the compilers of the Tripitaka in later ages who set up a more strict system of categorization by assigning those portions dealing with the Dharma to the pitaka of Abhidharma and those dealing with discipline to the pitaka of vinaya, and subsequently the sastra-writers, too, eliminated the chapter on Sila from the Abhidharma.

  The major portion of The Ablidharmahridaya cousists of eight chapters, viz. On Dhatus, On Samskaras (causes) ;0n Anusayas (subseqneut obtainings), On Sauctity (world),on Wisdom, On Concentration and On the Sutra (skandhas). These topics agree, in the main, with the Nine Divisions in The Abhidharma-Sutra, with minor alterations in the order of arrangement. The list of the Nine Divisions in chinese translation includes" Concentration" But lacked"wisdom". At first, this seemed something incomprehensible.After careful investigations, however, it has been found to be a mistake on the part of the translator, who had his topic rendered in a differnt way as the "name-taste--entence" (名味句). The error arose from the confusion of the two Sanskrit words "vyanjana" (tast)and "prajna" (wisdom) in which the first halves are somewhat similar to each other in form(according to the forms given in the Siddhavastn) and the second halves in sound.

This accounted for the mistranscription on the part of the copists and hence the mis-rendering onthe part of the translator. (In fact, the translator himself was not without doubt about thispoint, and therefore he had a note particularly inserted here, saying that this "taste" does not denote the taste of food or drinks but rather the taste of words and that this "taste" is syncnymous with "word".) Thus we see that the eight major chapters of The Abhidharmahridaya are materilly accordant with eight of the divisions in The Abhidharma-Sutra. But very few people have ever understood this point. If not for the clue provided in paramartha's information, the source and history of The Abhidharma-sutra and its derivative sastras would, in all probability, have to remain untraceable for ever.

  By the mean time, if we examine closely into its theoretical contents we shall discover that The Abhidharmahridaya has incorporated as well a lot of good points from other Abhidharma works. For instance, in the chapter on Dhatus at the opening of the book,the treatment of the samskrita dharmas by way of a triple classification is apparently adistinctive system adopted from The Sari put rabhidhar ma to interprete the sutra. Again, in the chapter on the Sutra, the process of explaining the skandhas according to the three categories of perception, wisdom and anusaya is a system adopted from The Pr akarana pada. These instances, showing the author's readiness to absorb the useful establi-shments of former writers, will justify us to suppose that what he meant by the term " hridaya" (heat) in the book-title is by no means limited to the essentials of The Abhidharma-sutra alone.

  Fqually worth-noticing is the literary form of this sastra, which comprises metrical pieces throughout. This constitutes another unique achievement of the autho's originality. Hui-yan, apparently basing on what he had heard from the translators, praised thesepieces as comparable to the music of heaven. As the Sanskrit text no longer exists to-day,there is no possibility tor us to appreciate its euphonic beauty.

But their poetic meritsmay still be indirectly comprehended in one of its derivative works, The Abhidharma-kosa-karika. (This work was a product of repeated revisions and modifications on The Abhidharmuhridaya and The Samyuktabhidharmahridaya sastras,so successtully done that it won the reputation of "the clever treatise" .) Among the twelve or nine classes ofthe Buddhist literature, the metrical form (geya) was as a rule only employed in associa-tion with the main text, and in most case to re-iterate the substance given in the prose section. This is a form of writing subject to very strict prosodical rules. It demands close keeping of the requirements of versification which are even more difficult to master thanthose of chinese"l-shih"(律诗). When employed to convey discussions of general nature,it still leaves some room for the author to make his choice of words and sounds. In caseof vinaya and sastra works, where technical terminology and numerical categorization are held all-important, the encumbrance presented by these prosodic restrictions would bemanv times more difficult to surmount. This is why among the twelve classes of sutras,the vinaya and the upadesa are seldom given in verse form, nor was it ever employed inthe Abhidharma works prior to this sastra. The bold step taken by Dharmassestahi to apply this form of writing to the reaim or sastra composition speaks for the unusual hei-ght of his literary attainment. Dharmakara, a western monk who came to china duringthe chia-p'ing period嘉平, 249-253) of the Former Wei dynasty, once related his ownex-perience of this sastra in the fellowing account.

When young, he was a student of non-Buddhist books, well-versed in literature. He used to boast that there was nothing whichhe could not read with ready understanding. Afterwards, he came upon The Abhidharma-hridaya in a certain monastery. He proceeded to read and re-read it many times over,and yet remained incapable of making out its meaning. With a secret surprise in his heart, he asked a monk tor explanation, and then became convineed of the profundity andextensiveness of Buddhism so much so that he resoloed to join the order (vid. Biographies of Eminent monks 高僧传, fasc.1). Therefore it is not an over-estimation to re-gara The Abhidhar mahr idaya as a work that has attained the highest level of its kind,in substance as well as in form. The high esteem it enjoyed in the whole of India and the enduring influence it exercised upon the Abhidharma works in succeeding ages are surelynot matters of mere chance.