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Abhidhamma Pitaka

The Basket of Abhidhamma


Note: At present there are no translations from the Abhidhamma
Pitaka available here at Access to Insight.
The seven books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the third division of the
Tipitaka, offer an extraordinarily detailed analysis of the basic
natural principles that govern mental and physical processes.
Whereas the Sutta and inaya Pitakas lay out the practical aspects
of the !uddhist path to A"akening, the Abhidhamma Pitaka
provides a theoretical frame"ork to explain the causal
underpinnings of that very path. In Abhidhamma philosophy the
familiar psycho#physical universe $our "orld of %trees% and %rocks,%
%I% and %you%& is distilled to its essence' an intricate "eb of
impersonal phenomena and processes unfolding at an inconceivably
rapid pace from moment to moment, according to precisely defined
natural la"s.
According to tradition, the essence of the Abhidhamma "as
formulated by the !uddha during the fourth "eek after his
(nlightenment.
)
Seven years later he is said to have spent three
consecutive months preaching it in its entirety in one of the deva
realms, before an audience of thousands of devas $including his late
mother, the former *ueen +aya&, each day briefly commuting back
to the human realm to convey to en. Sariputta the essence of "hat
he had ,ust taught.
-
Sariputta mastered the Abhidhamma and
codified it into roughly its present form. It "as then passed do"n
orally through the Sangha until the Third !uddhist .ouncil $ca. -/0
!.(&, "hen it finally ,oined the ranks of the inaya and Sutta,
becoming the third and final Pitaka of the Pali canon.
1espite its late entrance into the .anon, the Abhidhamma stands as
an essential pillar of classical Theravada !uddhist thought. Its
significance does, ho"ever, vary considerably across regional and
cultural boundaries. In Thai !uddhism, for example, the
Abhidhamma $and, for that matter, many of the .ommentaries as
"ell& play a relatively minor role in !uddhist doctrine and practice.
In Sri 2anka and +yanmar $!urma&, ho"ever, they hold the same
venerated status as the inaya and Sutta Pitakas themselves. The
modern !urmese approach to the teaching and practice of
Satipatthana meditation, in particular, relies heavily on an
Abhidhammic interpretation of meditative experience. 3egardless of
the Abhidhamma4s position on the shelf of !uddhist canonical texts,
the astonishing detail "ith "hich it methodically constructs a 5uasi#
scientific model of mind $enough, by far, to make a modern systems
theorist or cognitive scientist gasp in a"e&, insures its place in
history as a monumental feat of intellectual genius.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka is divided into seven books, although it is
the first $1hammasangani& and last $Patthana& that together lay out
the essence of Abhidhamma philosophy. The seven books are'
I. Dhammasangani $%(numeration of Phenomena%&. This book
enumerates all the paramattha dhamma $ultimate realities& to
be found in the "orld. According to one such enumeration
these amount to'
o
/- cetasikas $mental factors&, "hich, arising together in
various combination, give rise to any one of...
o
...67 different possible cittas $states of consciousness&
o
8 primary physical elements, and -9 physical
phenomena derived from them
o
:ibbana
Availability of (nglish translations'
o
Buddhist Psychological Ethics, translated from the
Pali by ..A.;. 3hys 1avids $<xford' Pali Text Society,
)700&.
II. Vibhanga $%The !ook of Treatises%&. This book continues the
analysis of the 1hammasangani, here in the form of a
catechism.
Availability of (nglish translations'
o
The Book of Analysis, translated from the Pali by
en. = Thittila $<xford' Pali Text Society, )7>7&.
III. Dhatukatha $%1iscussion "ith 3eference to the (lements%&. A
reiteration of the foregoing, in the form of 5uestions and
ans"ers.
Availability of (nglish translations'
o
Discourse on Elements, translated from the Pali by
en. = :arada $<xford' Pali Text Society, )7>-&.
I. Puggalapaatti $%1escription of Individuals%&. Some"hat
out of place in the Abhidhamma Pitaka, this book contains
descriptions of a number of personality#types.
Availability of (nglish translations'
o
A Designation of Human Types, translated from the
Pali by !... 2a" $<xford' Pali Text Society, )7--&.
. Kathavatthu $%Points of .ontroversy%&. Another odd inclusion
in the Abhidhamma, this book contains 5uestions and ans"ers
that "ere compiled by +oggaliputta Tissa in the 9rd century
!.(, in order to help clarify points of controversy that existed
bet"een the various %?inayana% schools of !uddhism at the
time.
Availability of (nglish translations'
o
Points of Controversy, translated from the Pali by
S.@. Aung and ..A.;. 3hys 1avids $<xford' Pali Text
Society, )7)/&.
I. Yamaka $%The !ook of Pairs%&. This book is a logical analysis
of many concepts presented in the earlier books. In the "ords
of +rs. 3hys 1avids, an eminent -0th century Pali scholar, the
ten chapters of the Aamaka amount to little more than %ten
valleys of dry bones.%
Availability of (nglish translations' None
II. Patthana $%The !ook of 3elations%&. This book, by far the
longest single volume in the Tipitaka $over >,000 pages long
in the Siamese edition&, describes the -8 paccayas, or la"s of
conditionality, through "hich the dhammas interact. These
la"s, "hen applied in every possible permutation "ith the
dhammas described in the 1hammasangani, give rise to all
kno"able experience.
Availa!ility of English translations"
o
Conditional #elations $vol %&, translated from the Pali
by en. = :arada $<xford' Pali Text Society, )7>7&.
Part I of the Tika#patthana section of the Patthana.
o
Conditional #elations $vol %%&, translated from the Pali
by en. = :arada $<xford' Pali Text Society, )76)&.
Part II of the Tika#patthana section of the Patthana.
o
A 'uide to Conditional #elations, translated from the
Pali by en. = :arada $<xford' Pali Text Society,
)7B6&. An introduction and guide to the first )-
pages $C& of the Patthana.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka has a "ell#deserved reputation for being
dense and difficult reading. The best "ay to begin studying
Abhidhamma is not to dive right into its t"o key books
$1hammasangani and Patthana&, but to explore some of the more
modern D and readable D commentarial texts. These "ill help you
get oriented to the Abhidhamma4s challenging terrain'

Buddhist Philosophy of #elations, by en. 2edi Sayada"


$(heel publication :o. 99)E Fandy' !uddhist Publication
Society, )76>&. An excellent introduction to the Patthana,
the most difficult of the Abhidhamma books, "hich
explains each of the -8 conditional relations by "hich the
dhammas interact.

Comprehensive )anual of A!hidhamma, A" The


A!hidhamma *angaha of Acariya Anuruddha, en. !hikkhu
!odhi, ed. $Fandy' !uddhist Publication Society, )779&.
This book, an expanded treatment of en. :arada4s classic
A )anual of A!hidhamma $see belo"&, should be re5uired
reading for every Abhidhamma student. It gives a
remarkably lucid and insightful overvie" of Abhidhamma
philosophy. (ven if you read no further than the
Introduction, your efforts "ill be "ell re"arded.

Dhamma Theory, The" Philosophical Cornerstone of the


A!hidhamma, by A. Farunadasa $(heel publication :o.
8)-G8)9E Fandy' !uddhist Publication Society, )77>&. The
1hamma Theory is the fundamental principle on "hich the
entire Abhidhamma is based' that all empirical phenomena
are made up of a number of elementary constituents D
dhammas D the ultimate realities that lie behind manifest
phenomena. This short book offers a good overvie" of the
philosophical and analytical methods used in Abhidhamma.

'uide Through the A!hidhamma Pitaka, by en.


:yanatiloka +ahathera $Fandy' !uddhist Publication
Society, )769&.

)anual of A!hidhamma, A" The A!hidhammattha *angaha


of Anuruddhacariya $fourth edition&, translated from the
Pali by en. :arada +aha Thera $Fuala 2umpur' !uddhist
+issionary Society, )7B7&. Available online at
H !uddhaSasana. A classic "ork that provides an excellent
introduction to the essentials of Abhidhamma study.
2argely superseded by !hikkhu !odhi4s expanded and more
thoroughly annotated A Comprehensive )anual of
A!hidhamma" The A!hidhamma *angaha of Acariya
Anuruddha $see above& but useful in its compactness.

Psychology and Philosophy of Buddhism, The" An


%ntroduction to the A!hidhamma, by 1r. W.;. Iayasuriya
$Fuala 2umpur' !uddhist +issionary Society, )766&.
Notes
1 Hand!ook of Pali +iterature, by Somapala Iaya"ardhana $.olombo'
Farunaratne, )778&, p. ).
! ;rom the Atthasalini, as described in 'reat Disciples of the Buddha, by
:yanaponika Thera and ?ellmuth ?ecker $Somerville' Wisdom
Publications, )77B&, pp. 8/#8>.