Research Home

Abhidhammatha Sangaha
by Acariya Anuruddha
Bhikkhu Bodhi, General Editor


  • Original Pali; 9 chapters, fifty pages in print.
  • First council:  Rajagaha, three months after parinibbana
  • Second: Vesali, a hundred yrs later
  • Third: Pataliputta, two hundred years after parinibbana
  • Vinaya is first collection, Suttana Second, Abhidhamma, third.
  • Abh. transmitted orally till 100 BC when canon was written..
  • "The system that the Abhidhamma Pitaka articulates is simultaneously a philosophy, a psychology, and an ethics, all integrated into the framework of a program for liberation...  The abh. may be described as a philosophy because it proposes an ontology, a perspective on the nature of the real... [the dhammas are] the fundimental components of actuality.  The dhammas fall into two broad classes: the unconditioned dhamma, which is solely Nibbana, and the conditioned  dhammas, which are the momentary mental and material phenomena that constitute the process of experience.  The familiar world of substantial objects... is a conceptual construct fashioned by the mind out of the raw data provided by the dhammas... It is the dhammas alone that possess Ultimate reality: determinate existence "from their own side" (sarupato)." (3)
  • "The primary concern of the Abh. is to understand the nature of experience, and thus the reality on which it focuses is conscious reality, the world as given in experience... for this reason the Abh. shades off into phenomenological psychology.  To facilitate the understanding of experienced reality, the Abh. embarks upon an elaborate analysis of mind as it presents itself to introspective meditation." (4)
  • "Since Buddha traces suffering to our tainted attitudes--a mental orientation rooted in greed, hatred, and delusion-- the Abh.'s phenomenological psychology also takes on the character of psychological ethics." (4)
  • traces through meditative absorbtions (jhanas) and stages of insight (maggas). 
  • pariyaya-dhammadesanaa:  the figurative or embellished discourse on the Dhamma.
  • nippariyaya-dhammadesana:  the literal or unembellished discourse...
  • "A second distinguishing feature of the Abhidhamma is the dissection of the apparently continuous stream of consciousness into a succession of discrete evanescent cognitive events called cittas... [which] can readily be derived from the Sutta Pitaka's analysis of experience into the five aggregates, among which the four mental aggregates are always inseparably conjoined." (7)
  • Paramatha: fourfold ultimate realities
    • consciousness - citta
    • mental factors - cetasika
    • material phenomena - rupa
    • nibbana
  • Patthana shows how these four are "welded into an orderly process" (8)
  • Analytic method evident in first six, synthetic method in Patthana.
  • Paticca Samuppada - Dependent Arising
  • Rays of six colors emanated from his head when he contemplated the Patthana: indigo, golden, red, white, tawny, and 'dazzling'.  [what colour is 'dazzling'?]
  • Theravada orthodoxy differs from Sarvastivadin in that the latter maintains that the Abh. was composed by Buddhist disciples and not the Buddha himself.
  • Tradition maintains that Abh. ought to be expounded from beginning to end in a single setting lasting three months; the audience should remain in one posture throughout.
  • Dhammasangani: an exhaustive catalogue of the ultimate constituents of existence.
  • Vibhanga: Each chapter, a self-contained dissertation on: aggregates, sense bases, elements, truths, faculties, dependent arising, foundations of mindfulness, supreme efforts, means to accomplishment, factors of enlightenment, the eightfold path, jhanas, illimitables, training rules, analytical knowleges, kinds of knowlege, minor points (a numerical inventory of defilements) and the heart of the doctrine (dhammahadaya). 
  • Dhatukatha: written entirely in catechism form.  "It discusses all phenomena with reference to the three schemata of aggregates, sense bases, and elements, and whether and to what extent they are included, not included, associated or dissociated from them.
  • Puggalapannatti: more akin to the suttas.  May originally be intended as a supplement to account for conceptual realities left out of the rigourous formality of Abh.
  • Kathavatthu: written by Elder Moggaliputta Tissa.
  • Yamaka: Book of pairs. 
    • "has the purpose of resolving ambiguities and defining the precise usage of technical terms.  It is so called owing to its method of treatment, which throughout employs the dual grouping of a question and its converse formation.  For instance the first pair of questions runs thus:  "Are all wholesome phenomena wholesome roots?  And are all wholesome roots wholesome phenomena?"
    • The book contains ten chapters:
      1. roots
      2. aggregates
      3. sense bases
      4. elements
      5. truths
      6. formations
      7. latent dispositions
      8. consciousness
      9. phenomena
      10. faculties (12)
  • Pattana: five volumes totalling 2500 pages!!! Four great divisions, according to positive, negative, positive-negative, and negative-positive method.  "Despite its dry and tabular format, even from the profane humanistic viewpoint the P. can easily qualify as one of the truly monumental products of the human mind, astounding in its [tenacity?] breadth of vision, its rigourous consistency, and its painstaking attention to detail."  (13) [yes, but is it real?]
  • Commentaries:
    • Acariya Buddhaghosa
      • Atthasalini (commentary to Dhammasangani)
      • Sammohavinodani - dispeller of dillusion (commentary to Vibhanga)
      • Pancappakarana Atthakatha - combined commentary to the remaining five.
      • Visuddhimagga - primarily an encyclopaedic guide to meditation; however Chapters 14-17 lay out the theory to be mastered prior to developing insight and thus constitute in effect a compact dissertation on Abh.
    • Acariya Ananda in turn rights a subcommentary to each of these.
    • and these have a sub-subcommentary by Dhammapala, his disciple. (not Acariya Dhammapala)
    • Buddhaghosa cannot properly be granted authorship of these texts; they represent centuries of exegetical material and he is the "general editor" much as Bikkhu Bodhi here is.
  • Original Material in the Commentaries!!!
    • the detailed account of cittavithi: while recognized in the suttas, they take on new life...
    • "cittas themselves come to be designated by way of their functions.  The term khana 'moment' replaces the canonical samaya or 'occasion' as the basic unit for delimiting the occurance of events, and the duration of a material phenomenon is determined to be seventeen moments of mental phenomena.   The division of a moment into three sub-moments--arising, presence, and dissolution-- also seems to be new to the commentaries" 
    • [fuck dude, this is huge.  Super duper huge.  Like culmination of three years of searching for basis, huge.  And of course the basis is not to be found in the Abh. proper... the bastards.  I first read this book in a diff. trans. while in Bodhgaya.  This notion of the 17 thought moments had me full of hope that within the Abh. there would be like, philosophical development that involved detailed information about what to expect when "time slows down" in the process of meditative attainment.  I thought someone had derived a system based on that awareness and presented it on the heals of the buddha.  But no.  Now I find that this is an anciliary system [is that the right word? spelled wrong?] appended to the tradition instead of the canon. Arguably, this one doctrine was the whole reason why I vowed to read these damn books.  And it wasn't in there.  So I held out hope, maybe it was in the one untranslated text, the Yamaka.  see what follows, in a footnote {why? why are all the vital pieces in such supplimentary locations!}]
    • footnote 10: "The Yamaka, in its chapter "Citta Yamaka," uses the term khana to refer to the subdivisions of a moment and also introduces the uppada-khana and bhanga-khana, the sub-moments of arising and dissolution.  However, the three-fold scheme of sub-moments seems to appear first in the Abh. commentaries." (369)
    • The organization of phenomena into groups [kalapa] is new to the commentary as well.
    • specification of the heart-base [hadayavatthu] as material basis for mind element and mind-consciousness element appears to be new too.
    • also the categories for classifying kamma and the detailed correlations between kamma and their results.
    • Dhammasangani often leaves open-ended the universe of mental factors i.e."or whatever else on that occasion..."; commentaries close this with "or whatever states". [yevapanaka dhamma]
    • formal definition of dhammas as "things which bear their own intrinsic nature." [attano sabhavam dharenti ti dhamma]
    • Fourfold defining devise of  "characteristic, function, manifestation, and proximate cause; from Petakopadesa and Nettipakaranana
    • Nine "let-than (Burmese)" or little-finger manuals
      1. Abhidhammatha Sangaha -- Acariya Anuruddha (5th century???)
      2. Namarupa-pariccheda
      3. Paramattha-vinicchaya
      4. Abhidhammavatara -- Acariya Buddhadatta (senior contemporary of Buddhaghosa)
      5. Ruparupa-vibhaga
      6. Sacca-sankhepa -- Bhadanta Dhammapala (diff from the great subcommentator)
      7. Moha-vicchedani -- Bhadanta Kassapa
      8. Khema-pakarana -- Bhadanta Khema
      9. Namacara-dipaka -- Bhadanta Saddhama Jotipala (I'm dropping all the long vowels; here, Naamacaara-diipaka)
    • Lots of this study was going on in South India, perhaps in Kancipura?
    • [great 4 hours, 16 pages.]
    • Modern scholars date Annuruda closer to 8th century, maybe as late as between 10th and early 11th based on content and style.
    • written at Mulasoma Monestary in Sri Lanka. But born in Kancipura.  Or perhaps there were two monks of this name, one wrote 1 (above) the other 3...
    • Many Tikas or commentaries were written to flesh out this pithy fifty pages.  Since the 15th cent.  Burma has been the hub of all Abh. studies.  19 commentaries in Pali alone.  listed, but not here.
    • [damn Bodhi blows my mind in his scholarship!  He got his Doctorate in Philosophy before he took his vows, and it shows!!!]
    • 'the famous commentary' (tika-gyaw) is Abhidhammathavibhavini-Tika.  Sayadaw critiques this harshly, and is in turn critiqued.
  • I'll spare us both the chapter summaries unless its not clear in the end...

Chapter 1
Compendium of Consciousness

© 2003 Hudson Cress. All rights reserved. No portion of this document may be used in any way without the explicit written consent of Hudson Cress. For more information, visit