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....

[The first Edition comprised 2 Volumes. The first Volume contained Chapter I to V and the second Volume Chapter VI to IX.]

The first five chapters of the Abhidhammattha Sangaha deal with the 89 and 121 types of consciousness, 52 mental states, various thought-processes in the course of one's lifetime and at rebirth, 31 planes of existence, and classification of Kamma. In one sense they form one complete book.

The remaining four chapters are devoted to

  • rūpa (matter),
  • Nibbāna,
  • paticca-samuppāda (the Law of Dependent Arising),
  • patthāna naya (Causal Relations),
  • Categories of Good and Evil,
  • Mental Culture,
  • Path of Purity, and
  • Great Attainments.

The sixth chapter is confined mainly to rūpa and Nibbāna.

Twenty-eight species of Rūpa are enumerated. What they are, how they arise, persist, and perish, are also explained. Rūpa is the third paramattha mentioned in the Abhidhamma, and is one of the two composite factors of this so-called being - the other being nāma (mind). As nāma, so rūpa too has been microscopically analysed. But no logical definition of rūpa is found either in the Text or in the Commentaries.

Rūpa is derived from Ö rup, to break up, to perish (nāsa).

According to the Vibhāvini Tīkā, rūpa is that which transforms or assumes a different mode owing to the adverse physical conditions of cold heat, etc. (sītonhādi virodhippaccayehi vikāram āpajjati).

From a Buddhist standpoint rūpa not only changes but also perishes (khaya, vaya). It endures only for seventeen thought-moments. Rūpa changes so rapidly that one cannot strike an identical place twice.

Rūpa is also explained as that which manifests itself (Ö rup - pakāsane).

Scholars suggest various renderings for rūpa. It is generally rendered by 'form', 'body', 'matter', 'corporeality', etc. meanings differ according to the context. One particular meaning is not universally applicable.

From a philosophical standpoint, 'matter' is the nearest equivalent for rūpa, although scientists too find it difficult to define matter.

It should be noted that the atomic theory prevailed in India in the time of the Buddha. Paramānu was the ancient term for the modern atom. According to the ancient belief one ratharenu consists of 36 tajjāris; one tajjāri, 36 anus; one anu, 36 paramānus. The minute particles of dust seen dancing in the sunbeam are called ratharenus. One paramānu is therefore, 1/46, 656th part of a ratharenu. This paramānu was considered indivisible.

With His supernormal knowledge the Buddha analysed this so-called paramānu and declared that it consists of paramatthas - ultimate entities which cannot further be subdivided.

The paramatthas are pathavi, āpo, tejo, and vāyo. One must not understand that these elements are earth, water, fire and air, as some Greek thinkers believed in the past.

Pathavi means the element of extension, the substratum of matter. Without it objects cannot occupy space. The qualities of hardness and softness which are purely relative are two conditions of this particular element. It may be stated that this element is present in earth, water, fire and air. For instance, the water above is supported by water below. It is this element of extension in conjunction with the element of motion, that produces the upward pressure. Heat or cold is the tejo element, while fluidity is the āpo element

āpo is the element of cohesion. Unlike pathavi it is intangible. It is this element that makes scattered particles of matter cohere, and gives rise to the idea of 'body'. When solid bodies are melted, this element becomes more prominent in the resulting fluid. This element is found even in minute particles when solid bodies are reduced to powder. The elements of extension and cohesion are so closely interrelated that when cohesion ceases extension disappears.

Tejo is the element of heat. Cold is also a form of tejo. Both heat and cold are included in tejo because they possess the power of maturing bodies, Tejo, in other words, is the vitalizing energy. Preservation and decay are also due to this element. Unlike the other three essentials of matter, this element has the power to regenerate matter by itself.

Inseparably connected with heat is vāyo, the element of motion. Movements are caused by this element. Motion is regarded as the force or the generator of heat. "Motion and heat in the material realm correspond respectively to consciousness and Kamma in the mental."

These four elements coexist and are inseparable, but one may preponderate over another as, for instance, pathavi in earth, āpo in water, tejo in fire, and vāyo in air.

They are also called Mahābhūtas, or Great Essentials because they are invariably found in all material substances ranging from the infinitesimally small cell to the most massive object.

Dependent on them are the four subsidiary material qualities of colour (vanna), smell (gandha), taste (rasa), and nutritive essence (ojā). These eight coexisting forces and qualities constitute one material group called 'suddhatthaka rūpa kalāpa - pure-octad material group'.

The remaining twenty kinds of rūpa are equally important.

It should be noted that physical life-principle (rūpa jīvitindriya) and sex are also conditioned by Kamma. Life in inorganic matter should be differentiated from life in animate beings.

The fact that rūpas arise in four ways such as Kamma, mind, seasonal phenomena, and food, will be a novel idea to modern thinkers. All these four sources can, to a great extent, be brought under one's control.

To some extent we are responsible for the creation of our own material phenomena, desirable or undesirable.

The accumulated Karmic tendencies created by persons in the course of their previous lives, play at times a greater role than the hereditary parental cells and genes, in the formation of physical characteristics.

The Buddha, for instance, inherited like every other person, the reproductive cells and genes from His parents. But physically there was none comparable to Him in His long line of honorable ancestors. In the Buddha's own words, He belonged not to the royal lineage, but to that of the Aryan Buddhas. He was certainly a superman, an extraordinary creation of His own Kamma.

According to the Lakkhana Sutta (D. 30) the Buddha inherited these exceptional features, such as the 32 major marks, as the result of his past meritorious deeds. The ethical reason for acquiring each physical feature is clearly explained in the Sutta.

In the sixth chapter only a few lines are devoted to the fourth paramattha - Nibbāna - the summum bonum of Buddhism. But the path to Nibbāna is described in detail in the ninth chapter.

The seventh chapter enumerates all ethical states and classifies them into various groups.

The two most profound philosophical teachings of Buddhism - namely, the Law of Dependent Arising (paticca-samuppāda) and the twenty-four Causal Relations (Patthāna) are described in the eighth chapter.

The last chapter is the most important and the most interesting, as it deals with Mental Culture (bhāvanā) and Emancipation, the quintessence of Buddhism.

To understand the intricacies of Abhidhamma one should critically read and reread the Abhidhammattha Sangaha patiently and carefully, pondering at the same time on the profound teachings embodied therein.

One who understands the Abhidhamma well can fully comprehend the Word of the Buddha and thereby realize one's ultimate goal.

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