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 V - On The Chief Subject Of Inquiry


If I have called Buddhist ethics psychological, especially as the subject is treated in this work, it is much in the same way in which I should call Plato's psychology ethical. Neither the founders of Buddhism nor of Platonic Socratism had elaborated any organic system of psychology or of ethics respectively. Yet it is hardly overstating the case for either school of thought to say that whereas the latter psychologized from an ethical standpoint, the former built their ethical doctrine on a basis of psychological principles. For whatever the far-reaching term d h a m m o may in our manual have precisely signified to the early Buddhists, it invariably elicits, throughout Book L, a reply in terms of subjective consciousness.

The discussion in the Commentary, which I have reproduced below, p. 2, note 3, on dhammarammanam, leaves it practically beyond doubt that d h a m m o , when thus related to m a n o , is as a visual object to visual perception — is, namely, mental object in general. It thus is shown to be equivalent to Herbart's Vorstellung, to Locke's idea —

"whatsoever is the immediate object of perception, thought or understanding"

— and to Professor Ward's "presentation".[1]

The dhamma in question always prove to be, whatever their ethical value, factors of cittam used evidently in its widest sense, i.e., concrete mental process or state. Again, the analysis of rupam in Book II., as a species of "indeterminate" dhamma , is almost wholly a study in the phenomena of sensation and of the human organism as sentient.

Finally, in Book III. the questions on various d h a m m a are for the most part answered in terms of the four mental skandhas, of the cittani dealt with in Book I., and of the springs of action as shown in their effect on will. Thus the whole inquiry in its most generalized expression comes practically to this: Given man as a moral being, what do we find to be the content of his consciousness ?

Now this term dhammo is, as readers are already aware, susceptible of more than one interpretation. Even when used for the body of ethical doctrine it was applied with varying extension, i.e., either to the whole doctrine, or to the Suttantas as opposed to Vinaya and Abhidhamma, or to the doctrine of the Four Truths only.

But whatever in this connexion is the denotation, the connotation is easy to fix. That this is not the case where the term has, so to speak, a secular or "profane" meaning is seen in the various renderings and discussions of it.[2]

The late H. C. Warren in particular has described the difficulties, first of determining what the word, in this or that connexion, was intended to convey, and then of discovering any word or words adequate to serve as equivalent to it. One step towards a solution may be made if we can get at a Buddhist survey of the meanings of dhammo from the Buddhists' own philosophical point of view. And this we are now enabled to do in consequence of the editing of the Atthasalini. In it we read Buddhaghosa's analysis of the term, the various meanings it conveyed to Buddhists of the fifth century a.d., and his judgment, which would be held as authoritative, of the special significance it possessed in the questions of the Dhammasangani.

"The word dhammo", runs the passage (p. 38),

"is met with [as meaning] doctrine (pariyatti), condition or cause (hetu), virtue or good quality Cguno), absence of essence or of living soul (nissatta-nijjivat a)",

etc. Illustrative texts are then given of each meaning, those referring to the last being the beginning of the answer in our Manual numbered [121]:

"Now at that time there are states" ;

and, further, the passage from the Satipatthanasutta[3]:

"Concerning dhammas he abides watchful over dhammas".

And it is with the fourth and last-named meaning of dhammo that the term is said to be used in the questions of the Manual. Again, a little later (p. 40), he gives a more positive expression to this particular meaning by saying that dhammo, so employed, signifies "that which has the mark of bearing its nature" (or character or condition — sabhavadharano).

This to us somewhat obscure characterization may very likely, in view of the context, mean that dhammo as phenomenon is without sub- stratum, is not a quality cohering in a substance. "Phenomenon" is certainly our nearest equivalent to the negative definition of nissatta-nijjivam, and this is actually the rendering given to dhammo (when employed in this sense in the Sutta just quoted) by Dr. Neumann: "Da wacht ein Monch bei den Erscheinungen. . . ."

If I have used states, or states of consciousness, instead of phenomena, it is merely because, in the modern tradition of British psychology, ' states of consciousness ' is exactly equivalent to such phenomena as are mental, or at least conscious. And, further, because this use of ' states ' has been taken up into that psychological tradition on the very same grounds as prompted this Buddhist interpretation of d h a m m a — the ground of non-committal, not to say negation, with respect to any psychical substance or entity.

That we have, in this country pre-eminently, gone to work after the manner of electrical science with respect to its subject-matter, and psychologized without a psyche, is of course due to the influence of Hume. In selecting a term so characteristic of the British tradition as "states" of mind or consciousness, I am not concerned to justify its use in the face of a tendency to substitute terms more expressive of a dynamic conception of mental operations, or of otherwise altered standpoints.

The Buddhists seem to have held, as our psychology has held, that for purposes of analysis it was justifiable to break up the mental continuum of the moral individuality into this or that congeries of states or mental phenomena. In and through these they sought to trace the working of moral causation. To look beneath or behind them for a "thing in itself" they held to be a dangerous superstition. With Goethe they said:

"Suche nichts hinter den Phanomenen; sie selbst sind die Lehre!"

And in view of this coincidence of implication and emphasis, ' states of mind ' or ' of consciousness ' seemed best to fit d h a m m a when the reply was made in terms of mental phenomena.

In the book on Form, the standpoint is no doubt shifted to a relatively more objective consideration of the moral being and his contact with a world considered as external. But then the word d h a m m a (and my rendering of it) is also superseded by r Ci p a m .

It is only when we come to the more synthetic matter of Book III. that dhamma strains the scope of the term I have selected if "states" be taken as strictly states of mind or of consciousness. It is true that the Buddhist view of things so far resembles the Berkeleian that all phenomena, or things or sequences or elements, or however else we may render dhamma , may be regarded as in the last resort "states of mind". This in its turn may seem a straining of the significance which the term possessed for early Buddhists in a more general inquiry such as that of Book III. Yet consider the definitions of dhamma , worthy of Berkeley himself, on p. 272 [1044-45].

The difficulty lay in the choice of another term, and none being satisfactory, I retained, for want of a better, the same rendering, which is, after all, indefinite enough to admit of its connoting other congeries of things or aspects beside consciousness.

The fundamental importance in Buddhist philosophy of this Phenomenalism or Non-substantialism as a protest against the prevailing Animism, which, beginning with projecting the self into objects, elaborated that projected self into noumenal substance, has by this time been more or less admitted. The testimony of the canonical books leaves no doubt on the matter, from Gotama's first sermon to his first converts[4], and his first Dialogue in the "Long Collection", to the first book of the Katha Vatthu.[5]

There are other episodes in the books where the belief in a permanent spiritual essence is, together with a number of other specu lations, waived aside as subjects calculated to waste time and energy. But in the portions referred to the doctrine of repudiation is more positive, and may be summed up in one of the refrains of the Majjhima Nikaya:

Sunnam idain attena va attaniyena vati

— Void is this of soul or of aught of the nature of soul! [6]

The force of the often repeated "This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my Self", is not intended to make directly for goodness but for truth and insight. ' And since neither self nor aught belonging to self, brethren, can really and truly be accepted, is not the heretical position which holds : — This is the world and this is the self, and I shall continue to be in the future, permanent, immutable, eternal, of a nature that knows no change, yea, I shall abide to eternity ! — is not this simply and entirely a doctrine of fools ?'[7]

And now that the later or scholastic doctrine, as shown in the writings of the greatest of the Buddhist scholastics, becomes accessible, it is seen how carefully and conscien- tiously this anti-substantialist position had been cherished and upheld. Half-way to the age of the Commentators, the Milinda-panho places the question of soul-theory at the head of the problems discussed. Then turning to Buddhaghosa we find the emphatic negation of the Sumangala Vilasini (p. 194):

— "Of aught within called self which looks forward or looks around, &c., there is none!"

matched in the Atthasalini, not only by the above-given definition of dhamma's , but also by the equally or even more emphatic affirmation respecting them, given in my note 1 to p. 33:

— "There is no permanent entity or self which acquires the states . . . these are to be understood pheno- menally (sabhavatthena). There is no other essence or existence or personality or individual whatever."

Again, attention is drawn in the notes to his often-reiterated comment that when a disposition or emotion is referred to cittam, e.g., nandirago cittassa,[8] the repudiation of an ego is thereby implied. Once more, the thoughts and acts which are tainted with "Asavas" or with corruptions are said to be so in virtue of their being centred in the soul or self,[9] and those which have attained that "ideal Better", and have no "beyond" (anuttara) are interpreted as having transcended or rejected the soul or self. [P. 336, n. 2.]

To appreciate the relative consistency with which the Buddhists tried to govern their philosophy, both in subject and in treatment, in accordance with this fundamental principle, we must open a book of Western psychology, more or less contemporary, such as the "De Anima", and note the sharply contrasted position taken up at the outset.

"The object of our inquiry", Aristotle says in his opening sentences,

"is to study and ascertain the nature and essence of the Psyche, as well as its accidents. ... It may be well to distinguish . . . the genus to which the Psyche belongs, and determine what it is . . . whether it is a something and an essence, or quantity, or quality . . . whether it is among entities in potentiality, or whether rather it is a reality. . . . Now, the knowledge of anything in itself seems to be useful towards a right conception of the causes of the accidents in substances. . . . But the knowledge of the accidents contributes largely in its turn towards knowing what the thing essentially is. . . . Thus the essence is the proper beginning for every demonstra- tion. . . ."

The whole standpoint which the Buddhists brought into question, and decided to be untenable as a basis of sound doctrine, is here accepted and taken as granted. A phenomenon, or series of phenomena, is, on being held up for investigation, immediately and unhesitatingly looked upon under one of two aspects : either it must be a substance, essence, reality, or it belongs to one of those nine other "Categories" — quantity, quality, etc. — which constitute the phenomenon an attribute or group of attributes cohering in a substance.

It is true that Aristotle was too progressive and original a thinker to stop here. In his theory of mind as elSo? or "form", in itself mere potentiality, but becoming actuality as implicate in, and as energizing body, he endeavoured to transform the animism of current standpoints into a more rational conception. And in applying his theory he goes far virtually to resolve mind into phenomenal process (De An., III., chaps, vii., viii.).

But he did not, or would not, wrench himself radically out of the primitive soil and plant his thought on a fresh basis, as the Buddhist dared to do. Hence Greek thought abode, for all his rationalizing, saturated with substantialist methods, till it was found acceptable • by and was brought up into an ecclesiastical philosophy which, from its Patristic stage, had inherited a tradition steeped in animistic standpoints.

Modern science, however, has been gradually training the popular mind to a phenomenalistic point of view, and joining hands in psychology with the anti-substantialist tradition of Hume. So that the way is being paved for a more general appreciation of the earnest effort made by Buddhism — an effort stupendous and astonishing if we consider its date and the forces against it — to sever the growth of philosophic and religious thought from its ancestral stem and rear it in a purely rational soil.

But the philosophic elaboration of soul-theory into Substantialism is complicated and strengthened by a deeply important factor, on which I have already touched. This factor is the exploitation by philosophy, not of a primitive Weltanschauung, but of a fundamental fact in intellectual procedure and intellectual economy. I refer to the process of assimilating an indefinite number of particular impressions, on the ground of a common resemblance, into a "generic idea" or general notion, and of referring to each assimilated product by means of a common name. Every act of cognition, of coming-to-know anything, is reducible to this compound function of discerning the particular and of assimilating it into something relatively general. And this process, in its most abstract terms, is cognizing Unity in Diversity, the One through and beneath the Many.

Now no one, even slightly conversant with the history of philosophy, can have failed to note the connexion there has ever been set up between the concept of substratum and phenomena on the one hand, and that of the One and the Many on the other. They have become blended together, though they spring from distinct roots. And so essential, in every advance made by the intellect to extend knowledge and to reorganize its acquisitions, is the co-ordinating and economizing efficacy of this faculty of generalizing, that its alliance with any other deep-rooted traditional product of mind must prove a mighty stay. A fact in the growth of religious and of philosophic thought which so springs out of the very working and growth of thought in general as this tendency to unify, must seem to rest on unshakeable foundations.

And when this implicit logic of intellectual procedure, this subsuming the particular under the general, has been rendered explicit in a formal system of definition and predication and syllogism, such as was worked out by the Greeks, the breach of alliance becomes much harder. For the progress in positive knowledge, as organized by the logical methods, is brought into harmony with progress in religious and philosophic thought.

This advance in the West is still in force, except in so far as psychological advance, and scientific progress generally, tell on the traditional logic and philosophy. Psychological analysis, for instance, shows that we may confuse the effective registration of our knowledge with the actual disposition of the originals. That is to say, this perceiving and judging, by way of generalizing and unifying, is the only way by which we are able to master the infinite diversities and approximate uniformities of phenomena. Through such procedure great results are attained. Conceptions are widened and deepened. Laws are discovered and then taken up under more general laws. Knowledge groups all phenomena under a few aspects of all but supreme generality. Unification of knowledge is everywhere considered as the ideal aim of intellect.

But, after all, this is only the ideal method and economy of intellect. The stenographer's ideal is to compress recorded matter into the fewest symbols by which he can reproduce faithfully. The ideal of the phonograph is to reproduce without the intermediacy of an economical pro- cess. Limitations of time and faculty constrain us to become mental stenographers. Whatever be our view as to the reality of an external world outside our perception of it, psychology teaches us to distinguish our fetches of abstraction and generalization for what they are psycliologically — i.e., for effective mental shorthand — whatever they may represent besides.

The logical form of Universal in term and in proposition is as much a token of our weakness in realizing the Particular as of our strength in constructing what is at best an abstract and hypothetical whole. The philosophical concept of the One is pregnant with powerful associations. To what extent is it simply as a mathematical symbol in a hypothetical cosmos of carefully selected data, whence the infinite concrete is eliminated lest it "should flow in over us"[10] and overwhelm us ?

Now, the Buddhistic phenomenalism had also both the one and the other member of this great alliance of Noumenon and Unity to contend' with. But the alliance had, so far at least as we know or can infer, not yet been welded together by a logical organon, or by any development in inductive science. Gotama and his apostles were conversant with the best culture of their age, yet when they shape their discourse according to anything we should call logic, they fall into it rather than wield it after the conscious fashion of Plato or Aristotle.

Nor is there, in the books, any clear method practised of definition according to genus and species, or of mutual exclusion among concepts. Thus freer in harness, the Buddhist revolutionary philosophy may be said to have attempted a relatively less impracticable task. The development of a science and art of logic in India, as we know it, was later in time ; and though Buddhist thinkers helped in that development, it coincided precisely with the decline of Buddhistic non-substantialism, with the renascence of Pantheistic thought.

Footnotes and references:


'Ency. Brit.,' 9th ed., art. 'Psychology.'


C/., e.g., Oldenberg, ^Buddha,' etc., 3rd ed., p. 290; Warren, 'Buddhism in Translations,' pp. 116, 364; Kern, 'Indian Buddhism,' p. 51, n. 3; Neumann, 'Eeden des Gotamo,' pp. 13, 23, 91; Gogerly, 'Ceylon Friend,' 1874, p. 21.


D. (suttanta 22) ; M. i. 61.


S. ii. 66-8 ; also in Maha Vagga, i. 6, 38-47.


Cf. Ehys Davids' 'American Lectures,' pp. 39, 40.


Or *self ' (attena). M. i. 297; ii. 263 (Icffe suiinam); cf. S. iv. 54 ; and K. V. 67, 579. Cf. the ' Emptiness-concept,' below, p. 33.


M. i. 138.


P. 277, n. 2 ; also pp. 129, note 1 ; 298, note 3, &c. ; and cf. p. 175, p. 1. See also on d h a t u, p. Ixxvii.


P. 294, n. 7 ; 327, n. 1. ^ P. 336, n. 2.


Infra f p. 351 : * Yam . . . papaka akusala dhamma anvassaveyyum. '

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