A Manual of Abhidhamma

by Nārada Thera | 80,494 words | ISBN-13: 9789380336510

In the Abhidhammattha Sangaha there is a brief exposition of the Law of Dependent Origination, followed by a descriptive account of the Causal Relations that finds no parallel in any other philosophy. Edited in the original Pali Text with English Translation and Explanatory Notes by Narada Maha Thera....

§ 1.

Sammāsambuddhamatulam - sasaddhammaganuttamam
Abhivādiya bhāsissam - Abhidhammatthasangaham

§ 1.

The Fully Enlightened Peerless One, with the Sublime Doctrine and the Noble Order,
do I respectfully salute, and shall speak concisely of things contained in the Abhidhamma.



1. Abhidhammattha-Sangaha is the name of the book. Abhidhamma, literally, means "Higher Doctrine". Attha here means "things". Sangaha means "a compendium".

The prefix "abhi" is used in the sense of preponderant, great, excellent, sublime, distinct, etc.

2. Dhamma is a multi-significant term, derived from the root dhar, to hold, to support. Here the Pāli term is used in the sense of doctrine or teaching. According to the Atthasālini, "abhi" signifies either "atireka" -higher, greater, exceeding - or "visittha" - distinguished, distinct, special, sublime.

Abhidhamma means the Higher Doctrine because it enables one to achieve one's Deliverance, or because it exceeds the teachings of the Sutta Pitaka and Vinaya Pitaka.

In the Sutta Pitaka and Vinaya Pitaka the Buddha has used conventional terms such as man, animal, being, and so on. In the Abhidhamma Pitaka, on the contrary, everything is microscopically analyzed and abstract terms are used. As a distinction is made with regard to the method of treatment, it is called Abhidhamma.

Thus, chiefly owing to the preponderance of the teachings, or because it is conducive to one's Deliverance, and owing to the excellent analytical method of treatment, it is called Abhidhamma.

3. The Abhidhamma Pitaka consists of seven treatises - namely,

  1. Dhammasangani,
  2. Vibhanga,
  3. Dhātukathā,
  4. Puggalapaññatti,
  5. Kathāvatthu,
  6. Yamaka
  7. Patthāna.

(Dhammasangani Vibhangañ ca - Kathāvatthu ca Puggalam Dhātu-Yamaka-Pathānam-Abhidhammo' ti vuccati)

i. Dhammasangani - "Classification of Dhammas".

This book is divided into four chapters, viz:-

  1. (Citta) Consciousness,
  2. (Rūpa) Matter,
  3. (Nikkhepa) Summary,
  4. (Atthuddhāra) Elucidation.

The 22 Tika Mātikās (Triplets) and the 100 Duka-Mātikās (Couplets), which comprise the quintessence of the Abhidhamma, are explained in this book. The major part of the book is devoted to the explanation of the first triplet - kusalā dhammā, akusalā dhammā and abyākatā dhammā. In extent the book exceeds thirteen Bhānavāras[1] (recitals), i.e., more than 104,000 letters.

ii. Vibhanga - "Divisions".

There are eighteen divisions in this book.

The first three divisions, which deal with

  1. khandha (aggregates)
  2. āyatana (sense-spheres)
  3. and dhātu (elements),

are the most important.

The other chapters deal with

  • sacca (truths,)
  • indriya (controlling faculties),
  • paccayākāra (causal genesis),
  • satipatthāna (foundations of mindfulness),
  • samma-ppadhāna (supreme efforts),
  • iddhi-pāda (means of accomplishments),
  • bojjhanga (factors of wisdom),
  • jhāna (ecstasies or absorption),
  • appamaññā (illimitable),
  • magga (paths),
  • sikkhā-pada (precepts),
  • patisambhidā (analytical knowledge),
  • ñāna (wisdom),
  • khuddaka-vatthu (minor subjects), and
  • dhamma-hadaya (essence of truth).

Most of these divisions consist of three parts - Suttanta explanation, Abhidhamma explanation, and a Catechism (Pañhapucchaka).

In this treatise there are thirty-five Bhānavāras (280,000 letters).

iii. Dhātukathā - "Discussion with reference to Elements".

This book discusses whether Dhammas are included or not included in, associated with, or dissociated from:

  • aggregates (khandha),
  • bases (āyatana),
  • and elements (dhātu).

There are fourteen chapters in this work. In extent it exceeds six Bhānavāras (48,000 letters).

iv. Puggalapaññatti - "Designation of Individuals".

In the method of exposition this book resembles the Anguttara Nikāya of the Sutta Pitaka. Instead of dealing with various Dhammas, it deals with various types of individuals. There are ten chapters in this book. The first chapter deals with single individuals, the second with pairs, the third with groups of three, etc. In extent it exceeds five Bhānavāras (40,000 letters).

v. Kathāvatthu - "Points of Controversy"

The authorship of this treatise is ascribed to Venerable Moggalliputta Tissa Thera, who flourished in the time of King Dhammāsoka. It was he who presided at the third Conference held at Pātalaliputta (Patna) in the 3rd century B.C. This work of his was included in the Abhidhamma Pitaka at that Conference.

The Atthasālini Commentary states that it contains one thousand Suttas: five hundred orthodox and five hundred heterodox. In extent it is about the size of the Dīgha Nikāya.

This book deals with 216 controversies and is divided into 23 chapters.

vi. Yamaka - "The Book of Pairs".

It is so called owing to its method of treatment. Throughout the book a question and its converse are found grouped together. For instance, the first pair of the first chapter of the book, which deals with roots, runs as follows: Are all wholesome Dhammas wholesome roots? And are all wholesome roots wholesome Dhammas?

This book is divided into ten chapters - namely,

  1. mūla (roots),
  2. khandha (aggregates),
  3. āyatana (bases),
  4. dhātu (elements),
  5. sacca (truths),
  6. sankhāra (conditioned things),
  7. anusaya (latent dispositions),
  8. citta (consciousness),
  9. dhamma, and
  10. indriya (controlling faculties).

In extent it contains 120 Bhānavāras (960,000 letters).

vii. Patthāna - "The Book of Causal Relations".

This is the most important and the most voluminous book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. One who patiently reads this treatise cannot but admire the profound wisdom and penetrative insight of the Buddha. There is no doubt of the fact that to produce such an elaborate and earned treatise one must certainly be an intellectual genius.

The term Patthāna is composed of the prefix "pa", various and "thāna", relation or condition (paccaya). It is so called because it deals with the 24 modes of causal relations (explained in a subsequent chapter) and the triplets (tika) and couplets (duka) already mentioned in the Dhammasangani, and which comprise the essence of the Abhidhamma Pitaka.

The importance attached to this treatise, also known as "Mahā Pakarana", the Great Book, could be gauged by the words of the Atthasālini which states: "And while He contemplated the contents of the Dhammasangani His body did not emit rays, and similarly with the contemplation of the next five books. But, when coming to the Great Book, He began to contemplate the 24 universal causal relations of condition of presentation, and so on, His omniscience certainly found its opportunity therein.[2]

Footnotes and references:


Bhānavāra = 250 verses: 1 verse = 4 lines: 1 line = 8 letters. One Bhānavāra, therefore, consists of 8000 letters


For a detailed exposition of these seven books see Rev. Nyanatiloka, Guide through the Abhidhamma Pitaka, and the introductory discourse of the Expositor, part i, p. 5-21. See also Buddhist Psychology, p. 135, 193. Relations, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, and the Editor's Foreword to the Tikapatthāna Text

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