Enumeration of Phenomena

400 B.C. | 124,932 words

*english translation* The first book of the Abhidhamma (Part 3 of the Tipitaka). The Dhammasangani enumerates all the paramattha dhamma (ultimate realities) to be found in the world. According to one such enumeration these amount to: * 52 cetasikas (mental factors), which, arising together in various combination, give rise to any one of... * ......

Part IV - On The Method And Argument Of The Manual

The title given to my translation is not in any way a faithful rendering of the canonical name of the Manual. This is admitted on my title-page. There is nothing very intelligible for us in the expression "Compendium of States", or "Compendium of Phenomena". Whether the Buddhist might find it so or not, there is for him at all events a strong and ancient association of ideas attaching to the title Dhamma-Sangani which for us is entirely nonexistent. I have therefore let go the letter, in order to indicate what appears to me the real import of the work.

Namely, that it is, in the first place, a manual or text-book, and not a treatise or disquisition, elaborated and rendered attractive and edifying after the manner of most of the Sutta Pitaka. And then, that its subject is ethics, but that the inquiry is conducted from a psychological standpoint, and, indeed, is in great part an analysis of the psychological and psycho-physical data of ethics.

I do not mean to assert that the work was compiled solely for academic use. No such specialized function is assigned it in the Commentary. Buddhaghosa only maintains that, together with the rest of the Abhidhamma,[1] it was the ipsissima verba of the Buddha, not attempting to upset the mythical tradition that it was the special mode he adopted in teaching the doctrine to the "hosts of devas come from all parts of the sixteen world-systems, he having placed his mother (re-incarnate as a devi) at their head because of the glory of her wisdom".[2]

Whether this myth had grown up to account for the formal, unpicturesque style of the Abhidhamma, on the ground that the devas were above the need of illustration and rhetoric of an earthly kind, I do not know. The Commentary frequently refers to the peculiar difference in style from that employed in the Suttanta as consisting in the Abhidhamma being nippariyaya-desan a — teaching which is not accompanied by explanation or disquisition. [3]

And the definition it gives, at the outset, of the term Abhidhamma shows that this Pitaka, and a fortiori the Dhamma-Sangani, was considered as a subject of study more advanced than the other Pitakas, and intended to serve as the complement and crown of the learner's earlier courses.[4]

Acquaintance with the doctrine is, as I have said, taken for granted. The object is not so much to extend knowledge as to ensure mutual consistency in the intension of ethical notions, and to systematize and formulate the theories and practical mechanism of intellectual and moral progress scattered in profusion throughout the Suttantas.[5]

It is interesting to note the methods adopted to carry out this object. The work was in the first instance inculcated by way of oral teaching respecting a quantity of matter which had been already learnt in the same way. And the memory, no longer borne along by the interest of narrative or by the thread of an argument, had to be assisted by other devices. First of these is the catechetical method. Questions, according to Buddhist analysis, are put on five several grounds :[6]

  1. to throw light on what is not known ;
  2. to compare what one knows with the knowledge of others ;
  3. to clear up doubts ;
  4. to get the premises in an argument granted ; [7]
  5. to give a starting-point from which to set out the content of a statement.

The last is selected as the special motive of the catechizing here resorted to. It is literally the wish to discourse or expound (kathetu kamyata), but the meaning is more clearly brought out by the familiar formula quoted, viz. :

"Four in number, brethren, are these Advances in Mindfulness. Now which are the Four?"

Thus it was held that the questions in the Manual are analytic or explicative, having the object of unfolding and thereby of delimitating the implications of a mass of notions which a study of the Suttantas, if unaided, might leave insufficiently co-ordinated in the mind.

And the memory, helped by the interrogative stimulus, was yet further assisted by the symmetrical form of both question and answer, as well as by the generic uniformity in the matter of the questions. Throughout Book I., in the case of each inquiry which opens up a new subject, the answer is set out on a definite plan called uddesa — exposition — and is rounded off invariably by the appana, or emphatic summing up:

"all these (whatever they may stand for on other occasions or in other systems) on this occasion = x."

The uddesa is succeeded by the niddesa — de-position — i.e., analytical question and answer on the details of the expository statement. This is indicated formally by the initial adverb tattha — what here (in this connexion) is a . . b . . c ? Again, the work is in great part planned with careful regard to logical relation. The Buddhists had not elaborated the intellectual vehicle of genus and species, as the Greeks did, hence they had not the convenience of a logic of Definition.

There is scarcely an answer in any of these Niddesas but may perhaps be judged to suffer in precision and lucidity from lack of it. They substitute for definition proper what J. S. Mill might have called predication of aequipollent terms — in other words, the method of the dictionary. In this way precision of meaning is not to be expected, since nearly all so-called synonyms do but mutually overlap in meaning without coinciding ; and hence the only way to ensure no part of the connotation being left out is to lump together a number of approximate equivalents, and gather that the term in question is defined by such properties as the aggregate possesses in common.

If this is the rationale of the Buddhist method, the inclusion, in the answer, of the very term which is to be defined becomes no longer the fallacy it is in Western logic. Indeed, where there is no pursuit of exact science, nor of sciences involving 'physical division,' but only a system of research into the intangible products and processes of mind and character, involving aspects and phases, i.e., logical division, I am not sure that a good case might not be made out for Buddhist method. It is less rigid, and lends itself better, perhaps, to a field of thought where ' a difference in aspects is a difference in things.'[8]

However that may be, the absence of a development of the relation of Particular and Universal, of One and All, is met by a great attention to degree of Plurality. Number plays a great part in Buddhist classes and categories.[9] Whether this was inherited from a more ancient lore, such as Pythagoras is said to have drawn from, or whether this feature was artificially developed for mnemonic purposes, I do not know. Probably there is truth in both alternatives.

But of all numbers none plays so great a part in aiding methodological coherency and logical consistency as that of duality. I refer of course especially to its application in the case of the correlatives, Positive and Negative.

Throughout most of Book II. the learner is greatly aided by being questioned on positive terms and their opposites, taken simply and also in combination with other similarly dichotomized pairs. The opposite is not always a contradictory. Koom is then left in the "universe of discourse" for a third class, which in its turn comes into question.

Thus the whole of Book I. is a development of the triplet of questions with which Book III. begins (a-kusalam being really the Contrary of kusalain, though formally its Contradictory) : What is A ? What is B ? What is {ah), i.e., non-A and non-B ?

In Book III. there is no obvious ground of logic or method for the serial order or limits observed in the "Clusters" or Groups, and the interpolated sets of "Pairs" of miscellaneous questions. Nevertheless a uniform method of catechizing characterizes the former.

Finally, there is, in the way of mnemonic and intellectual aid, the simplifying and unifying effect attained by causing all the questions (exclusive of sub-inquiries) to refer to the one category of dhamma .

There is, it is true, a whole Book of questions referring to rupam, but this constitutes a very much elaborated sub-inquiry on "form" as one sub-species of a species of dhamma — rupino dhamma, as distinguished from all the rest, which are a - rupino dhamma. This will appear more clearly if the argument of the work is very concisely stated.

Those who can consult the text will see that the Matika, or table of subjects of all the questions (which I have not held it useful to reproduce), refers exclusively to Book III. Book III. in fact contains the entire work considered as an inquiry (not necessarily exhaustive) into the concrete, or, as one might say, the applied ethics of Buddhism. In it many if not all fundamental concepts are taken as already defined and granted.

Hence Books I. and II. are introductory and, as it were, of the nature of inquiry into data. Book II. is psycho-physical; Book I. is psychological. Together they constitute a very elaborate development, and again a sub-development, of the first triplet of questions in Book III., viz. : dhamma which are good, i.e., make good karma, those which are bad, and those which make no karma (the indeterminates).

Now, of these last some are simply and solely results[10] of good or bad dhamma, and some are not so, but are states of mind and expressions of mind entailing no moral result (on the agent). [11] Some again, while making no karma, are of neither of these two species, but are dhamma which might be called either unmoral (rupam),[12] or else supermoral (uncompounded element or Nirvana).[13]

These are held to constitute a third and fourth species of the third class of dhamma called indeterminate. But the former of the two alone receives detailed and systematic treatment. Hence the whole manual is shown to be, as it professes to be, a compendium, or, more literally, a co-enumeration of dhamma. The method of treatment or procedure termed Abhidhamma (for Abhidhamma is treatment rather than matter) is, according to the Matika, held to end at the end of the chapter entitled Pitthi-dukam or Supplementary Set of Pairs.

The last thirty-seven pairs of questions[14] and answers, on the other hand, are entitled Suttantikadukam. They are of a miscellaneous character, and are in many cases not logically opposed. Buddhaghosa has nothing to say by way of explaining their inclusion, nor the principle determining their choice or number. Nor is it easy to deduce any explanation from the nature or the treatment of them. The name Suttantika may mean that they are pairs of terms met with in the Dialogues, or in all the four Nikayas. This is true and verifiable. But I for one cannot venture to predicate anything further respecting them.

Footnotes and references:


But including the Matika only of the later Katha Vatthu. Cf. * Dialogues of the Buddha,' p. xi ; AsL, p. 1.


AsL, p. 1.


E.g., Asl. 403. The meaning of this expression is illustrated by its use on p. 317 of the Cy. : na nippariyayena digham rupayatanam; i.e., * that which is long (or short) is only infer eMtially a visual object.'


AsL, p. 2. Translated by Mr. A. C. Taylor, J. K. A. S., 1894.


Professor Edmond Hardy, in his Introduction to the fifth volume of the Anguttara Nikaya, expresses the belief that the Dhamma-Sangani is 'entirely dependent upon the Anguttara.' For my part, I have found no reason to limit the manual's dependence on the Suttantas to any one book. Buddhaghosa does not specially connect the two works.


Asl. 55, 56 ; cf. Sum. 68.


A favourite method in the Dialogues. The Cy. quotes as an instance M. i. 232.


Professor J. Ward, Ency. Brit., 9th ed., ' Psychology.'


Cf. especially, not only Book II. of this work, but also the whole of the Anguttara.


Book I., Part III., ch. i.


Ibid., ch. ii.


Book II,


Appendix II.


§§ 1296-1366.

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