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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.
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.
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.
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.
phil wrote:But we still aren't experiencing in Abhidhamma terms when that goes on, are we?
Ben wrote:Hi Bodum
If you were living closer, I would loan you my copy.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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!
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)...
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