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Canonical Pâli Buddhist Literature of the Theravâda School

(b) The Seven Books Of Abhidhamma

The Suttanta Rtaka also contains discourses dealing with analyti- cal discussions and conditional relationship of the five aggregates. Where the need arises subjects such as the five aggregates, ayatanas, etc are mentioned in the sutta discourses But they are explained only briefly by what is known as the Sutta Method of Analysis (Suttanta bhdjaniyd), giving bare definitions with limited descriptions. For example, khandhas the five aggregates, are enumerated as the corporeal aggregate, the aggregate of sensation, the aggregate of perception, the aggregate of mental formations (volitional activities) and the aggregate of consciousness. They may be dealt with a little more comprehensively, for instance, the corporeal aggregate may be further defined as corporeality of the past, the present or the future, the corporeality which is internal or external, coarse or fine, inferior or superior, far or near. The Sutta Method of Analysis does not usually go further than this definition.

But the Abhidhamma approach is more thorough, more pene- trating, breaking down each corporeal or mental component into the ultimate, the most infinitesimal unit For example, Rupakkhandha, cor- poreal aggregate, has been analysed into twenty-eight constituents, Vedanakkhandha, the aggregate of sensation, into five; Sannakkhan- dha, the aggregate of perception, into six; Sahkharakkhandha, the ag- gregate of mental formations, into fifty, and Vinnanakkhandha, the aggregate of consciousness, into eighty-nine. Then each constituent part is minutely described with its properties and qualities and its place in the well arranged systems of classification is defined

A complete description of things requires also a statement of how each component part stands in relation to other component parts This entails therefore a synthetical approach as well, to study the interrelationship between constituent parts and how they are related to other internal or external factors.

Thus the Abhidhamma approach covers a wide field of study, consisting of analytical and synthetical methods of investigation, describing and defining minutely the constituent parts of aggregates, classifying them under well ordered heads and well arranged systems and finally setting out conditions in which they are related to each other Such a large scope of intellectual endeavour needs to be en- compassed in a voluminous and classified compilation Hence, the Abhidhamma Pitaka is made up of seven massive treatises, namely:

  1. Dhammasangani, containing detailed enumeration of all phe- nomena with an analysis of consciousness (citta) and its con- comitant mental factors (cetasikas) ,
  2. Vtbhanga, consisting of eighteen separate sections on analysis of phenomena quite distinct from that of Dhammasangani;
  3. Dhatukatha, a small treatise written in the form of a catechism, discussing all phenomena of existence with reference to three categories, khandha, ayatana and dhatu,
  4. Puggalapannatti, a small treatise giving a description of various parts of individuals according to the stage of their achievement along the Path;
  5. Kathdvatthu, a compilation by the Venerable Moggaliputta, the presiding thera of the third Great Synod in which he discusses and refutes doctrines of other schools in order to uproot all the points of controversy on the Buddha Dhamma,
  6. Yamaka, regarded as a treatise on applied logic in which analy- tical procedure is arranged in pairs,
  7. Patthana, a gigantic treatise which altogether with Dhamma- sangani, the first book, constitutes the quintessence of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. It is a minutely detailed study of the doc- trine of conditionality, based on twenty-four pacayas, conditions or relations.  
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