What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby jcsuperstar » Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:16 am

it just sorta fills in the gaps that might be there between my practice and my reading of suttas, a bad analogy could be my practice is a car my sutta understanding is knowing how to drive, the abhidhamma is knowing how the car works or something like that.... :shrug:
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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby phil » Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:56 am

Hi Pt

Thanks for your response.

Seeing that you singled me out, I’ll try give a bit more detailed response (knowing you like long posts) and hoping to encourage your abhi studies.

The first thing that comes to mind is precision. I.e. when reading a sutta, I’d always end up with several possible interpretations and wondering which one is correct - even after considering the context, the audience, different translations, then consulting the commentaries by modern teachers (which can vary quite a lot in opinion, etc). In that situation it becomes very hard to figure out how do Buddhist teachings apply to my experiences, which are just as hard to make sense of. I mean, it’s pretty hard to nail down what exactly is the experience of mindfulness, or awareness, or more subtle stuff like vicara, passaddhi, etc, even without different people giving different definitions.


Yes, that's why knowing some Pali is so important, for precision. But I guess for reasons I was just writing to Chris, knowledge of Abhidhamma (very basic in my case) does not always help because I'm not convinced that all suttas are meant to be understood in Ahidhamma terms. But yes, the kinds of topics you mention, it's all paramattha.





Secondly (since I know you’re keen on sila these days), it really helps tremendously in observing daily experiences more accurately. I.e. since learning about a/kusala roots and other cetasikas, rapid change of cittas, etc, it is now possible to be aware of such situations for example when giving a gift – there’s a brief metta and generosity, then in the next split-second there’s conceit about it, then there’s aversion that there wasn’t enough gratitude from the other person, then there’s blaming myself for feeling aversion, then there’s remembering the goodnes of the act of giving, etc, etc, and all that in the space of a couple of seconds. Before I mostly didn’t notice all that. Not that you couldn’t get hints on all this from the suttas, but with abhidhamma it all becomes much more blatantly obvious and hard to ignore. So, I’d say abhidhamma helps with figuring out what’s kusala and what’s akusala, which I believe is the preliminary requirement for insight.


Yes, I see what you mean. I think having come across Abhidhamma at DSG made me more sensitive to that kind of thing. But we still aren't experiencing in Abhidhamma terms when that goes on, are we? Aren't we just forming a story about what we take to be paramattha only because our thinking has become a bit more responsive/attuned than before? Well, why not? It doesn't do any harm. Well, I think it can, actually. I know some people who are so interested in the akusala moments lurking in the good deeds that it seems they find more meaning in seeing those akusala moments (actually just speculating on them) and it waters down their desire to do good deeds. It seems to me it makes some people "unafraid of wrong doing" as one sutta puts it. I only think of one person I know in particular whose morality is a bit shady in my opinion but who has excellent knowledge of Abhidhamma. As you can see from my signature, my thinking is that the deeds themselves carry along enough kusala cittas with them that it makes up for any akusala cittas lurking in there. Eventually there will be better understanding of all those akusala moments, or there won't, but for now I will think about conventional behaviour and assume it is developing more kusala cittas than akusala. But at least I want to understand Abhidhamma in theory, that is better than not understanding it at all! :smile:

Thirdly, when it comes to meditation, which I believe is what you wanted to know, I mostly do samatha, so on that front it also works to nail down the differences between mental factors involved and whether they are akusala or kusala – i.e. is there chanda or lobha, is there right or wrong concentration, right or wrong effort, is there passaddhi or is it attachment to a concept of calm, etc. So, it helps again with accuracy and being more vigilant – abhidhamma makes it blatantly obvious how horribly fast a kusala moment can grow into an akusala one, even if all that you have on your mind is the breath.


I wonder how there can be that kind of insight going on in samatha, but I am not a very serious meditator and don't know much of it. I do a kind of samatha that feels more like new-age visualization sometimes. And rather than awareness of fleeting moments there is an effort to make an ongoing state of mind that is pleasant and interesting so that the mind can settle down and be anchored in it. (From that description you can probably guess what meditation teacher I listen to.) I primarily does this to condition more patience in daily life, better behaviour. And I find it works.

Anyway, all this is still, I believe, a conceptual level of understanding, i.e. no stages of insight yet, nor seeing the ultra-rapid change of cittas, nor the difference between a pannatti nimitta and a navattaba nimitta, etc. So I’d say abhidhamma is very helpful even if panna is not on the ultra-fast level of discerning individual dhammas and cittas. And still, I think anyone can see that the mind changes at least a dozen times per second, so even at this point, abhidhamma is very much applicable (i.e. all that about rapidity of cittas, the 3 marks, different a/kusala states, etc) and will eventually lead towards the point when the accuracy of seeing increases to insight-level speeds.

Of course, when it comes to things we can’t yet see directly, I find it’s kind of helpful to know about them a bit and then just move on, instead of going too far into intellectual speculation about it. In fact I don’t see any difference here between approaching the suttas, or abhidhamma+sutta. So, kind of keep the focus where it is most helpful practically. I.e. if there’s interest in sila, then it’s very helpful to keep reconsidering what is metta, what is generosity, what’s the near enemy, what’s the far enemy, what’s the proximate condition, what are co-nascent mental factors in each of those, etc. In this way it becomes easier to recognise all this in real-life and abhidhamma can provide a wealth of hints there. Obviously not much point yet going into too much speculation about navattaba etc.

Hopefully, once akusala and kusala are thoroughly understood in experience, then insight proper becomes possible, and at that point abhidhamma will really shine imo, as it’s all about insight in the fist place. In fact, I have to admit that I couldn’t really understand what’s exactly meant by insight until abhidhamma. And I wish I could get it all just from the suttas, but, probably don't have enough kusala accumulations for that, so I need more detailed abhi explanations to make it all a little more obvious and easier to notice in real-life.


Ok, thanks again for your kind and thoughtful response, pt1. My attention wandered, as it does, on the last 3 paragraphs because it is a nice sunny day and I want to go jogging and get a tan so I can be more handsome and charismatic when I go back to work tomorrow!You can see the kind of defiled mind I'm working with! :smile:

Metta,

Phil

p.s as I said to Chris, I'll be away for a week, so thanks for waiting if there is anything you'd like to discuss further.
I hope that every time I post it will be accompanied by a wish for the wellbeing of everyone in this sangha and all beings.
(so I don't have to write "metta" every time!)


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(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 06, 2010 4:00 am

Greetings Phil,

phil wrote:But we still aren't experiencing in Abhidhamma terms when that goes on, are we?


I think that's when Abhidhamma would be at its most usual. Chris often points out that there is abhidhamma within the suttas, so whether one is using sutta classifications, or Abhidhamma classifications (and of course there's much overlap between the two) as a tool for better understanding the mind and its activities in real-time (or even retrospectively, through wise reflection) then I think this is of great benefit.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby bodom » Wed Jan 06, 2010 4:10 am

Ben wrote:Hi Bodum
If you were living closer, I would loan you my copy.
metta

Ben


Hey Ben thanks for the offer and yes i am quite far about 15,000 miles if not more. It looks like ill be reading the online version for now.

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Jan 06, 2010 9:44 pm

I was going to add this comment to this thread:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 556#p46553
but perhaps it's useful here...
mikenz66 wrote:I suspect that there are many Abhidhamma experts who do give the practical information that you are seeking. Just not a lot obvious teachings in English, unfortunately...

There is a little in Bhante Sujiva's book "Essentials of insight meditation practice"
http://www.sujiva.wz.cz/english/books_eng.html
You can search through the PDF for "abdhidhamma". Not very specific, but some flavour. Here's one of the things he says (there are many other mentions of Abhidhamma):
BUDDHIST METAPHYSICS
A second important point that I found very helpful was
when I began to study the Abhidhamma. The Abhidhamma
is Buddhist metaphysics. It involves the study of Paramattha
Dhamma, of the ultimate realities, different mind and body
processes and characteristics, different consciousness and
different mental states.

When I first went to Penang, I was very interested in
Abhidhamma teaching, as I had not heard of it before.
Although I had come across such books they were very
technical, containing bombastic words which did not make
too much sense to me, especially as my English was not
too good. For example, Cetasika was translated as mental
concomitant—“What is mental concomitant?” They used
the word “perception” and I wondered what they meant
by perception. The dictionary says “to perceive” is
perception. What then is to perceive? Perceive is to know but then
what is the difference between consciousness and knowing? It is not
very precise. However, when you have grasped the knack of studying,
you realise it is not just a matter of memory but rather the study has
to be related to one’s experiences, one’s practice and so forth.
Fortunately at the time, there was a teacher who taught Abhidhamma
and he related it to daily life. When one is practising, it is helpful to
relate it to the practice. When I had a number of questions and I
was not in intensive meditation, I would analyse them and read
whatever I could and then I would ask him the questions. This helped
me to be very aware of the different states and conditions of mind.
It also helped to define more clearly the meditation object.

For example, when one talks about greed and craving and one
looks at the Abhidhamma, it gives clearer definitions with which one
can relate to the different consciousness that operate. Then when I
went out and looked at other monks I thought, well, there is greed,
this one is having greed, look at him eating that way, he is having
greed. Then I began to appreciate the Abhidhamma. Not many monks
study the Abhidhamma so I was fortunate in being able to detect these
things that happen in the mind and the body. That helps a lot in
the practice, it cuts out many defilements, it increases the mindfulness
and so forth. Of course, within the teaching itself, many things are
said concerning the practice.

Mike
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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby phil » Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:01 am

Chris wrote:
Phil said: So how do you (all) see Abhidhamma within your practice? What are you finding from it that you don't find fully served by the suttanta? Again, I'm not asking this to dispute Abhidhamma. I'm hoping to have my Abhidhamma studies kick-started again.


Hello Phil,

I found that a good grounding in the Abhidhamma saved me from the all-too-common error of thinking that understanding the Suttas was fairly straight forward, and all that was necessary. For me, the Abhidhamma is the primary school area of Buddhadhamma which needs to be thoroughly grasped, otherwise the higher level courses in the Suttas are misunderstood. Certainly, the Abhidhamma is essential in understand Anicca and Anatta and Dukkha - particularly Anatta - and basic to progress in meditation.

metta
Chris



Hi Chris. Thanks for the response. Something rather strange happened yesterday when I responded. I wrote one of my long rambling things and fortunately (for you, sparing you the time to read it) it didn't appear, nor did a follow up with a more concise version. Now I hesitate to write much lest it happen again, but thanks. At some point I would like to identify what the texts and academics say about to what degree each and every sutta is to be understood in Abhidhamma terms. I certainly think there are a lot that should be, but I have seen a tendency on the part of some friends to read paramattha into suttas where it should not be, not according to the commentary anyways. I think of one friend who wrote that the "garland of deeds" in Dhammapada that those born to the human realm should make should be understood as the javana cittas. This was entirely his own idea, as he said himself, but another friend responded and said that this is how he would now understand it, thanks. But Buddhogosa's commentary said nothing of the sort, the deeds in question were to be understood as conventional. So I think there is a danger of reading paramattha into very basic teachings that are not to be understood in those terms. I think this is another kind of "all-too common error" that we might be slipping into at times because of our appreciation of Abhidhamma. As we know, the Buddha didn't teach the deep Dhamma to people until he knew their minds were ready. I have a hunch we are all too easy about forgetting that.

Anyways, let's see if this goes up. Thanks. I'll be taking away a break for awhile, always struggling to cut down my internet time. I'm not a good Dhamma discusser.Write great long things, and than am unwilling to take the time to discuss them. Very bad that.

Metta,

Phil
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(so I don't have to write "metta" every time!)


Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:19 am

Hi Phil,
phil wrote:.... But Buddhogosa's commentary said nothing of the sort, the deeds in question were to be understood as conventional. So I think there is a danger of reading paramattha into very basic teachings that are not to be understood in those terms. I think this is another kind of "all-too common error" that we might be slipping into at times because of our appreciation of Abhidhamma. As we know, the Buddha didn't teach the deep Dhamma to people until he knew their minds were ready. I have a hunch we are all too easy about forgetting that.

That's one of the things I was trying to get at in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2986
When we are developing sila and concentration we are working with conventional concepts. The aim of third area of the Path, developing insight wisdom, is to see things in paramattha terms.

Of course, it is helpful to have (conceptual understanding of) the paramattha dhammas, three characteristics, etc, in mind while working on all aspects of the path (as in the quote from Bhante Sujiva that I gave above)...

Metta
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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby pt1 » Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:23 am

Hi Phil,
phil wrote: Yes, I see what you mean. I think having come across Abhidhamma at DSG made me more sensitive to that kind of thing. But we still aren't experiencing in Abhidhamma terms when that goes on, are we? Aren't we just forming a story about what we take to be paramattha only because our thinking has become a bit more responsive/attuned than before?

I guess it would depend on what you mean by "abhidhamma terms". As I understand it, this is still all conceptual understanding of real-life experiences, so no direct insight and seeing individual cittas/dhammas if that's what you mean. But, I'd say that conceptual understanding is still very important as it leads to direct insight later on. I mean, if there was no conceptual understanding of anatta, lobha, metta, etc, relating to real-life experiences, then one could end up doing sila and samatha with views that reinforce atta, and thus never really reach direct insight. Whether one's views (and ensuing deeds) really reinforce atta or anatta, that's what one as buddhist has to keep reexamining constantly imo, because it is the undetectable atta view (or basically wrong view) that kept and will continue to keep each one of us from awakening in the first place.

phil wrote:
pt1 wrote:Thirdly, when it comes to meditation, which I believe is what you wanted to know, I mostly do samatha, so on that front it also works to nail down the differences between mental factors involved and whether they are akusala or kusala – i.e. is there chanda or lobha, is there right or wrong concentration, right or wrong effort, is there passaddhi or is it attachment to a concept of calm, etc. So, it helps again with accuracy and being more vigilant – abhidhamma makes it blatantly obvious how horribly fast a kusala moment can grow into an akusala one, even if all that you have on your mind is the breath.


I wonder how there can be that kind of insight going on in samatha

Sorry if I've given you a wrong impression - I don't think that anything I list above is actual insight as in the stages of insight. Imo it is all still a conceptual understanding of experiences on the level of distinguishing akusala from kusala, or what's popularly known as hindrances. E.g. if one's meditating and a strong desire for ice-cram arises, well that's the hindrance of desire (greed). But, if a very very subtle desire arises to hold onto the concept of calm that has just pervaded the mind, well that's also the hindrance of desire. In that moment, with such desire, the concentration is of the wrong type as well for example. So, my point was that I probably wouldn't be able to detect this very subtle stuff if not for the abhidhamma pointers.

phil wrote:Eventually there will be better understanding of all those akusala moments, or there won't, but for now I will think about conventional behaviour and assume it is developing more kusala cittas than akusala. But at least I want to understand Abhidhamma in theory, that is better than not understanding it at all!

Yeah, I think that's a good approach, as abhidhamma can imo help immensely in distinguishing akusala and kusala in real-life, even though the study on occasions might seem very theoretical.

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Re: What role does Abhidhamma play in your practice?

Postby pt1 » Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:42 am

Hi Mike,
mikenz66 wrote:When we are developing sila and concentration we are working with conventional concepts. The aim of third area of the Path, developing insight wisdom, is to see things in paramattha terms.

Of course, it is helpful to have (conceptual understanding of) the paramattha dhammas, three characteristics, etc, in mind while working on all aspects of the path (as in the quote from Bhante Sujiva that I gave above)...

I'd say that conceptual understanding is not just helpful, but crucial. I mean, sila, samatha and doing good deeds (kusala basically) were well known before the Buddha, but when done with atta view behind them, they did not lead to liberation. Hence, if we as buddhists are aiming for liberation, then sila and samatha must also not be done with atta view as it will never allow direct insight to happen. Of course, it is impossible to start doing sila and samatha with direct inisght immediately, so a start is made with correct conceptual understanding of anatta, lobha, metta, etc. Once understood conceptually, these can be examined in terms of how they apply to real-life experiences of sila and samatha, and that would hopefully enable direct insight - the only thing that actually liberates.

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