A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas

by Sujin Boriharnwanaket | 129,875 words

A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas is a guide to the development of the Buddha's path of wisdom, covering all aspects of human life and human behaviour, good and bad. This study explains that right understanding is indispensable for mental development, the development of calm as well as the development of insight The author describes in detail all ment...

Chapter 1 - The Scriptures And Their Commentaries

Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammā Sambuddhassa
Homage to Him, the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Fully
Enlightened One

The word of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Vinaya as taught by him, consists of nine divisions which are:

  1. Sutta,
  2. Geyya,
  3. Veyyākaraṇa,
  4. Gāthā,
  5. Udāna,
  6. Itivuttaka,
  7. Jātaka,
  8. Abbhuta
  9. and Vedalla[1] .

1) Sutta[2] includes all Discourses, such as the "Mangala Sutta" ("Good Omen Discourse ", Minor Readings, V), and also the Vinaya Piṭaka[3] and the Niddesa.

2) Geyya includes all Suttas with verses (gāthā), such as the Sagāthā-vagga of the Saÿyutta Nikāya or "Kindred Sayings" (I).

3) Veyyākaraṇa or "Exposition" includes the Abhidhamma Piṭaka, the Suttas without verses, and the words of the Buddha which are not included in the other eight divisions.

4) Gāthā or "Verses", include the Dhammapada, Theragāthā, Therīgāthā (Psalms of the Brothers and Sisters) and those parts of the Sutta-Nipāta not called Sutta and entirely in verse.

5) Udāna or "Verses of Uplift" include eighty-two Suttas connected with verses recited by the Buddha, inspired by knowledge and joy.

6) Itivuttaka or "As it was said" includes hundred and ten Suttas[4] beginning with "Thus it was said by the Blessed One" (in Pali: "Vuttaÿ h’etaÿ Bhagavatā").

7) Jātaka or Birth Stories include five-hundred and fifty stories of the past lives of the Buddha and his disciples, beginning with the "Apaṇṇaka Jātaka".

8) Abbhuta, "Marvelous", includes Suttas connected with wonderful and marvelous things (Dhammas with extraordinary qualities, which are amazing).

9) Vedalla includes Suttas with questions and answers which have as result understanding and delight, such as the "Cullavedalla Sutta".

The word of the Buddha consists of eighty-four thousand units of text. The venerable Ānanda learnt from the Exalted One eighty-two thousand units of text, and from the Bhikkhus, mainly from the venerable Shariputra, two thousand units of text. Each theme is one unit of text, thus, the Sutta containing one theme is one unit of text. Where there are questions and answers, each question forms one unit of text and each answer forms one unit of text.

When the scriptures are classified as the "Tipitaka", they are classified as threefold, namely: the Vinaya, the Suttanta and the Abhidhamma.

The Vinaya Piṭaka or "Books of Discipline" consist of five Books, namely:

  1. Mahavibhaṅga
  2. Bhikkhunī-vibhaṅga[5]
  3. Mahavagga
  4. Cullavagga
  5. Parivāra (Appendix or Accessory)

The Commentary which explains the Vinaya is the "Samantapāsādikā".

The Suttanta Piṭaka or Discourses consist of five "Nikāyas[6] ", namely:

  1. Dīgha Nikāya or "Dialogues of the Buddha"[7] ,
  2. Majjhima Nikāya or "Middle Length Sayings"[8] ,
  3. Saÿyutta Nikāya or "Kindred Sayings"[9] ,
  4. Anguttara Nikāya or "Gradual Sayings"[10],
  5. Khuddaka Nikāya or "The Minor Collection"[11].

The Dīgha Nikāya is a collection of long dialogues (dīgha means long), consisting of thirty-four Suttas. This collection is divided into three sections (in Pali: vagga)[12]:

  1. Sīla-kkhandha-vagga (sīla means morality and khandha means group)
  2. Maha-vagga (maha means great)
  3. Pāṭika-vagga (called after the first Sutta; Pāṭika is a proper name).

The Commentary to this collection is the "Sumaṅgalavilāsinī".

The Majjhima Nikāya is a collection of Suttas of medium length (majjhima means middle), and it consists of hundred and fifty-two Suttas. It is divided into three parts which are called in Pali "paṇṇāsa", meaning fifty. The first two parts consist of fifty Suttas each and the third part of fifty-two Suttas.

They are called:

  1. Mūla-paṇṇāsa (mūla means root), consisting of five sections of ten Suttas
  2. Majjhima-paṇṇāsa, consisting of five sections of ten Suttas
  3. Upari-paṇṇāsa (upari means above or later), consisting of five sections, of which four have ten Suttas and the fifth has twelve Suttas.

The Commentary to this collection is the "Papañcasūdanī".

The Saÿyutta Nikāya is a group of Suttas (saÿyutta means joined, connected) divided into five main divisions, namely:

  1. Sagāthā-vagga (gātha means verse, with verses), with eleven sections
  2. Nidāna-vagga (nidāna means origin or cause), consisting of nine sections
  3. Khandha-vagga (dealing with the five khandhas), consisting of thirteen sections
  4. Saḷāyatana-vagga (saḷāyatana is the six fold āyatana or sphere of sense), consisting of ten sections
  5. Maha-vagga (great chapter), consisting of twelve sections.

The Commentary to this collection is the "Sāratthappakāsinī".

The "Anguttara Nikāya" consists of Suttas grouped according to the numbers of Dhamma subjects or points dealt with. They are arranged by way of an increase of the parts by one at a time, from one up to eleven. Thus, there are eleven "nipāta", or sections in all. "Book of the Ones" consists of Suttas dealing with one kind of subject, and so on up to the Book of the Elevens.

Summarizing them, they are:

  1. Eka-nipāta (eka means one), Book of the Ones
  2. Duka-nipāta (duka, from dve, two, meaning pair), Book of the Twos
  3. Tika-nipāta, Book of the Threes
  4. Catuka-nipāta, Book of the Fours
  5. Pañcaka-nipāta, Book of the Fives
  6. Chaka-nipāta, Book of the Sixes
  7. Sattaka-nipāta, Book of the Sevens
  8. Aṭṭhaka-nipāta, Book of the Eights
  9. Navaka-nipāta, Book of the Nines
  10. Dasaka-nipāta, Book of the Tens
  11. Ekādasaka-nipāta, Book of the Elevens.

The Commentary to the Anguttara Nikāya is the Manorathapūranī.

Apart from these four Nikāyas, there is the Khuddaka Nikāya which contains the word of the Buddha. This consists of the following books:

  1. Khuddakapāṭha or "Minor Readings"[13]
  2. Dhammapada (pada means word or phrase)[14]
  3. Udāna or "Verses of Uplift"[15]
  4. Itivuttaka or "As it was said"
  5. Suttanipāta or "The Group of Discourses"
  6. Vimānavatthu or "Stories of the Mansions" (in Minor Anthologies IV)
  7. Petavatthu or "Stories of the Departed" (in Minor Anthologies IV)
  8. Theragāthā or "Psalms of the Brethren"
  9. Therīgāthā or "Psalms of the Sisters"
  10. Jātaka or "Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births" (in three volumes by P.T.S.)
  11. Maha-Niddesa (niddesa means descriptive exposition)
  12. Cūḷa-Niddesa (cūḷa or culla means small)[16]
  13. Paṭisambhidāmagga or "The Path of Discrimination"
  14. Apadāna (life histories)[17]
  15. Buddhavaÿsa or "Chronical of the Buddhas" (in Minor Anthologies III)
  16. Cariyāpiṭaka or "Basket of Conduct" (in Minor Anthologies III)

The Commentaries to these collections of the Khuddaka Nikāya are the following:

  • the Paramatthajotikā which is the Commentary to the Khuddakapātha and the Suttanipāta[18]
  • Dhammapadaṭṭhakathā or "Buddhist Legends" (in three volumes by the P.T.S.) which is the Commentary to the Dhammapada
  • The Paramatthadīpanī which is the Commentary to the Udāna, the Itivuttaka, the Petavatthu, the Theragāthā, the Therīgāthā, the Cariyāpiṭaka and the Vimānavatthu[19] .
  • the Jātakatthavaṇṇanā, which is the Commentary to the Jātaka[20]
  • the SadDhammapajjotika, which is the Commentary to the Maha-Niddesa and the Cūḷa-Niddesa
  • the SadDhammappakāsinī, which is the Commentary to the Paṭisambhidāmagga
  • the Visuddhajanavilāsinī, which is the Commentary to the Apadāna
  • the Madhuratthavilāsinī, or "The Clarifier of Sweet Meaning" (P.T.S.), which is the Commentary to the Buddhavaÿsa.

The Abhidhamma Piṭaka consists of the following seven Books:

  1. Dhammasaṅgaṇī or "Buddhist Psychological Ethics", which has as Commentary the Aṭṭhasālinī or "The Expositor"[21]
  2. Vibhaṅga or "The Book of Analysis", which has as Commentary Sammohavinodanī or "Dispeller of Delusion"[22] .
  3. Dhatukathā or "Discourse on Elements"
  4. Puggalapaññātti or "a Designation of Human Types"
  5. Kathāvatthu or "Points of Controversy"
  6. Yamaka[23]
  7. Paṭṭhāna or "Conditional Relations"[24]

As to the Commentary to the last five Books of the Abhidhamma, this is the Pañcappakaraṇatthakathā.[25]

The greater part of the commentaries to the Tipitaka are from the hand of the great commentator Buddhaghosa[26] . He translated into Pali, compiled and arranged material from the ancient commentaries which were written in Singhalese. These commentaries which were the Maha-Atthakathā, the Maha-Paccarī and the Kuruṇḍi, stemmed from the time of the Thera Mahinda, the son of the great King Ashoka who came to Sri Lanka in order to propagate Buddhism.

Furthermore, there are sub-commentaries, called in Pali: ṭīkā, which explain the commentaries. These are the Sāratthadīpanī, a sub-commentary to the Samantapāsādikā, which is the commentary to the Vinaya, the Sārattha Mañjūsā, a sub-commentary to the Suttanta Piṭaka, the Paramatthapakāsinī, a sub-commentary to the Abhidhamma Piṭaka, and the anu-ṭīkā (anu meaning: along, alongside) which explains words and expressions in the sub-commentaries. Apart from the afore-mentioned works there are several other texts in Buddhism needed for the Study of the Dhamma which were composed by the "Elders"[27] who were qualified to pass on the tradition of the Dhamma.

These are the following texts:

  • Milindapañha or "Milinda’s Questions"[28] , composed about 500 Buddhist Era (43 B.C.E.)
  • Visuddhimagga or "Path of Purification"[29] , an Encyclopedia on Buddhism, composed by Buddhaghosa about 1000 B.E. ( 457 A.D.)
  • Abhidhammattha Saṅgaha or "A Manual of Abhidhamma"[3], composed by Ven. Anuruddha about 1000 B.E. (457 A.D.)[31] .
  • Sārattha Saṅgaha, composed by Ven. Nanda about 1000 B.E. (457 A.D.)
  • Paramattha Mañjūsa, a subcommentary to the Visuddhimagga, composed by the Ven. Dhammapāla.
  • Saccasaṇkhepa (meaning Exposition of the Truth), composed by Ven. Dhammapala.
  • Abhidhammattha-vibhāvinī-ṭīkā, a subcommentary to the Abhidhammattha Saṅgaha[32] , composed by Sumangala, of Sri Lanka.
  • Moha Vicchedanī, an explanation of the Dhammasangaṇi and the Vibhaṅga (the first and second Books of the Abhidhamma), composed by Ven. Kassapa of Sri Lanka, about 1703 B.E. (1160 C.E.)
  • Mangalattha Dīpanī, an explanation of the Mangala Sutta (Good-Omen Discourse, Khuddakapāṭha, Minor Readings, no 5) composed by Ven. Sirimangala in Chiangmai.[33]

Footnotes and references:


See the "Expositor", Atthasālinī, Introductory Discourse, 26. The teachings as compiled (not yet written) literature are thus enumerated in the scriptures as nine divisions, for example in the "Middle Length Sayings" I, no. 22.


The Pali term Sutta means: that which is heard. The word of the Buddha which has been heard.


The three Piṭaka, or Tipitaka, are the three divisions of the teachings, namely: the Vinaya, Suttanta and Abhidhamma. When the teachings are classified as nine divisions, the Vinaya is in the section of Sutta. The "Atthasālinī" mentions in this section on Sutta the Sutta-Vibhaṅga and Parivāra, which belong to the Vinaya.


In the "Atthasālinī" the counting is hundred and twelve.


The P.T.S. has edited and translated these two books as three parts, the "Suttavibhaṅga".


Nikāya means "body" or collection.


I am giving the English titles, as used in the translations of the P.T.S. "The Dialogues of the Buddha" have been edited in three volumes.


Edited in three volumes.


Edited in five volumes.


Edited in five volumes.


This collection consisting of sixteen parts has been edited in different volumes, but not all of them have been translated into English.


These sections are in the Pali text but not in the English edition.


Translated into English and edited by the P.T.S. in one volume together with the translation of its commentary "The Illustrator of Ultimate Meaning".


Of this text there are several English translations.


I add the English title when it has been translated into English.


The Maha-Niddesa and the Cūḷa-Niddesa have not been translated into English.


This has not been translated into English


The commentary to the Khuddakapātha has been translated into English as I mentioned, but the commentary to the Sutta Nipāta has not been translated.


Translated into English are: the Udāna Commentary (two volumes), the Commentary to the Vimānavatthu, "Vimāna Stories", the Commentary to the Petavatthu, "Peta Stories", the Commentary to the Therīgāthā, "Commentary on the Verses of the Therīs".


In the English edition of the Buddha"s Birth Stories, parts of the Commentary have been added.


In two volumes


In two volumes


Yamaka means "Pair". This has not been translated into English.


There is a translation of part of the Paiihana. There is also a "Guide to Conditional Relations", vol. I and II, explaining part of the Paiihana, by U Narada, Myanmar. Vol. II is no longer available.


Only the Commentary to the Kathāvatthu has been translated into English, with the title of "Debates Commentary".


He lived in the fifth century of the Christian era and stayed in the "Great Monastery" of Anurādhapura, in Sri Lanka.


Thera can be translated as Elder or senior monk, a monk who has been ordained for at least ten years.


In two volumes. One translation by the P.T.S. and another one by T.W. Rhys Davids.


One edition as translated by Ven. Nyāṇamoli, Colombo, and one edition as translated by Pe Maung Tin, P.T.S.


Translated by Ven. Nārada, Colombo. Another edition by P.T.S. has the title of "Compendium of Philosophy".


The P.T.S. edition suggests that the date is between the 8th and the 12th century A.D.


Translated into English by P.T.S.


I could add to this enumeration the Nettippakaraṇa, translated as "The Guide", P.T.S. and the Peṭakopadesa or "Disclosure of the Piṭakas" which has not been translated into English. They are compilations of a school which, according to tradition, traced its descent to Maha-Kaccana, one of the great disciples of the Buddha. Dhammapāla has written a commentary on the Netti, probably late fifth century C.E.

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