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Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic - Dhamma Wheel

Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Discussion of Abhidhamma and related Commentaries

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phil
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Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby phil » Sat Feb 12, 2011 11:46 pm

Hi all

Some weeks, maybe a couple of months back, there was a reference in a thread to Abhidhamma being "mechanistic" and that image/term has stuck with me. I have been going through a revival of interest in Abhidhamma recently, and don't have trouble with seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic, the working of impersonal dhammas performing functions. But I've read others say that this implies there is some kind of atta view implied there, that impersonal dhammas performing functions implies little selves, or something like that. For me this is no problem, because my level of understanding is so shallow that I want to study Abhidhamma (at least in the summarized form that it has been handed down in CMA etc) as theory pertaining to the deepest level of understanding. But I am wondering and have been wanting to ask if others see Abhidhamma in a way that is *not* mechanistic, not just impersonal dhammas performing functions. Or if you'd like to confirm my feeling that Abhidhamma is indeed mechanistic, and that that is fine...

If it is all right, I would like to ask that only people for whom Abhidhamma is an important part of their understanding of Dhamma respond here rather than those who (maybe understandably) shunt it aside as an interesting but corrupted junior to the suttanta. Thanks.
Last edited by phil on Sun Feb 13, 2011 2:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
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)

phil
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Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby phil » Sun Feb 13, 2011 12:01 am

For example, the other day I wrote about the congressman who sent semi-nude photos to a stranger to try to arrange illicit sex, and wrote that hiri and otappa "didn't work" or "didn't function" or something like that, at the moment (many moments) he did that. I have no trouble writing that, it seems having an idea of dhammas underlying behaviour and performing functions works for me...but it is all theory for me, I don't aspire to directly understand/experience those mechanistically functioning dhammas, but I do find understanding it in theory for now to be helpful. Does that go against the Buddha's "see for yourself" ideal?
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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tobes
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Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby tobes » Sun Feb 13, 2011 2:09 am

I not very learned in the Abhidhamma, but I think mechanistic is a misleading kind of metaphor. Abhidhamma is certainly often described in that way; as a dry, rational, schematic expression of scholasticism. And it can certainly be read in that way too.

But it is actually very dynamic and fluid; the various faculties, powers, path factors etc are not abstract concepts which fit together in some linear and geometric fashion.....they are aspects and potentialities of your own mind, and therefore are as malleable and dynamic as your own mind.

The metaphysics which underpins it all is paticca-samuppada and anatta: so the way everything fits together is quite the opposite of mechanical....it is more like intersecting rivers and streams.

:anjali:

Sylvester
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Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby Sylvester » Sun Feb 13, 2011 8:02 am

"Mechanistic" may not capture the whole spectrum of some of the reservations about Abhidhamma. I think there are valid concerns that some contemporary presentations of Abhidhamma look very "DETERMINISTIC".

The problem becomes less so, IMHO, if a more formal and sustained distinction is drawn between the types of relations governing the nidanas of Paticcasamuppada. Some nidanas are rightly explained as conditions of "necessity", eg the necessity of feeling as condition for craving. Other nidanas are more properly explained as conditions of "necessity and sufficiency", eg contact as a sufficient condition for feelings (per MN 43).

Where it becomes more or less deterministic is where the relationship is one of sufficiency, eg contact as condition for feeling. But because the sufficiency principle does not govern each and every nidana, the possibility for escape presents itself, according to some Vipassana presentations that emphasise Vedananupassana (since vedana does not always lead to craving).

Hope this helps a wee bit.

Akuma
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Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby Akuma » Sun Feb 13, 2011 8:10 am


phil
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Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby phil » Mon Feb 14, 2011 4:07 am

Thanks all for your comments. I'll leave it there for now and see if others want to add something. :smile:
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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Ben
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Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby Ben » Mon Feb 14, 2011 5:56 am

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

phil
Posts: 788
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:08 am
Location: Tokyo

Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby phil » Mon Feb 14, 2011 8:01 am

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)

phil
Posts: 788
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:08 am
Location: Tokyo

Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby phil » Tue Feb 15, 2011 2:59 am

May I ask a couple more questions? Do those of you who value Abhidhamma see it as pariyatti and the suttanta as more closely related to what you aspire to directly understand, experience througth your practice? Or is Abhidhamma equal in that respect to the suttanta for you? Has anyone come to see Abhidhamma as a kind of paradigm (? or perfectly described model, is that what paradigm means?) of the way dhammas perform functions but that it's a paradigm (?) that performs its function for Buddhist practicioners mainly as pariyatti? I guess this is not the case because I have heard Burmese sayadaws teaching their meditation method in Abhidhamma terms.

But for me it seems Abhidhamma is a perfectly expressed and inspiring model of how the deeply developed mind understands reality, and it is helpful for me to shake up my locked in, long-acquired view of the mind by considering the mind in the light of that perfect model which can only be theory for one such as me (with understanding such as "mine.") Any gradual development of understanding seems more likely to come in sutta terms, if you will. (For example, I have not found any teaching in the suttanta about millions of mind moments in what we take to be a second of thinking or seeing or whatever, I suspect that is only in Abhidhamma. But happy to learn otherwise!) If this seems that I'm going against my own stated request for this thread that Abhidhamma not be shunted aside as a junior to the suttanta, my apologies. I don't really mean to shunt it aside or reduce it in importance, but I guess if I say that I suspect it is through contemplating the suttanta that direct understanding comes, that's what I'm doing. Didn't intend to, I'm trying to work things out here....

In any case, I'll just throw that jumbled question out there and see if anyone would like to add a few more comments. No worries if not. :smile:
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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tobes
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Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby tobes » Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:57 am


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Ben
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Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby Ben » Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:59 am

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

phil
Posts: 788
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:08 am
Location: Tokyo

Re: Seeing Abhidhamma as mechanistic

Postby phil » Wed Feb 16, 2011 6:52 am

HI Tobes and Ben,

Thank you for your comments, they helped me to kind of at least settle my mind down around the Abhidhamma. I went through a period where I thought the Abhidhamma was too deep to read about for a person like me (my mind does not tend naturally towards insight, not even perception of annicca) without inadvertently blocking any evenual access to *really* understanding it by overreaching in the short term, but I think I am over that. I guess the fact that my mind does not tend towards insight of fleeting mind states (I'm a genius at playing with concepts to motivate wholesome behaviour I think) means that I need the help that Abhidhamma provides in giving hints about insight and helping my thick mind to flex its muscles a bit in the right direction. And another kind of flexing will continue to develop through meditation in my veering-between-monkey-minding-and-nodding off way. (Strong hindrances to concentration here, very strong, but happy persistence is there.) And of course through whatever degree of satipatthana is developing in daily life.
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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