You are on page 1of 2


An Introduction to Theravda Abhidhamm:

With a Short Historical Background

Lectured By Rev. Uttamnanda
12-07-2014 (Sat)

It is believed that the Abhidhamm was not a later addition to the Theravda tradition.
According to the commentaries, Abhidhamm was represented in the fourth week of
Buddhas Enlightenment. When the Conditional Relations (Pahna) was pondered over
and over at the jeweled-chamber created by gods, there were six coloured rays radiated from
the Buddhas body. Consequently the Abhidhamm for the first time came into being in
Theravda Buddhism.
The second event was found that the seven years after His Enlightenment, the Buddha
went to the celestial world and taught Abhidhamm to the deities for three months. The
Abhidhamm was then briefed by the Buddha to venerable Sariputtar who is one of His
chief disciples. The latter passed it on in a detailed manner to his pupils of five hundred
monks. Thus Abhidhamm gradually developed.
According to the modern scholars, Abhidhamm was not the teaching of Buddha, yet
it was later work, which emerged after the Buddhas demise. They proved it to Kathvatthu
which is now fifth book of seven Abhidhamma Texts and it was appeared subsequent to 3

Buddhist council held in 247 BCE.
Abhidhamm is a compound of two words: Abhi and Dhamma. The literal
translation of it is unclear, but the most acceptable one commonly given is Abhi higher or
special and Dhamma teaching or philosophy. Thus Abhidhamm defines a higher
teaching. It has generally been considered as Buddhist Psychology in the West.
In Theravda tradition, Abhidhamm is counted as the last one of the Three Baskets.
It consists of seven texts: Dhammasaga (Enumeration of Factors), Vibhaga (Analysis),
Dhtukath (Discussion of Elements), Puggalapaatti (Descriptions of Individuals),
Kathvatthu (Points of Controversy), Yamaka (The Pairs) and Patthna (Conditional
Two types of Dhamma, Paatti and Paramattha, is explained in Theravda
Abhidhamm. The former comprises names and things whilst the latter is the ultimate
reality. Things are able to be known by names and vice versa. Paatti is conventional

truth (Samuti Sacc) as it is generally accepted. It is Ultimate Truth (Paramattha Sacc)
that never changes from its nature, for instance, the characteristic of greed is identical in all
beings. The ultimate truth has four in number, namely mind (Citta), mental states (Cetasika),
matter (Rpa) and emancipation from all sufferings (Nibbna).
A being or person is mere concept in the ultimate sense. It is indeed composed of
mind (Nma) and matter (Rpa). Under the category of mind, there consists of consciousness
and mental states. Further, a being is examined by the five aggregate (Khandhas) of material
form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. There are only two of mind
and matter again when they are abridged. It is Nibbna where there mind and matter become
completely extinct.
The Theravda Abhidhamm, like the rest of the Tipiakas, was orally transmitted
until the 1
century BCE. Due to famines and constant wars, the monks responsible for
recording the oral tradition felt that there was a risk of portions of the canon being lost so the
Abhidhamm was written down for the first time along with the rest of the Canon. It was
happened first and foremost at Alu Vihra Temple in Sri Lanka.

Key Words: Tharavda, Abhidhamm, Subsequent to, Buddhist Psychology, Orally

(1) Abhidharma (Web)
(2) Nandamalabhivamsa, Dr., Fundamental Abhidhamm, Part-I, Sagaing Hill, Myanmar,