The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

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The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby Bankei » Thu Dec 24, 2009 7:30 am

Hi

I have noticed that there are many people out there who reject the Abhidhamma yet still call themselves Theravadins. This includes a few monks. There are others that take the Sutta and Vinaya as primary but still see some (lesser) value in the Abhidhamma.

Why do you think this is so? And,
Is this just a recent thing or is there evidence, in the commentaries etc, of others in the past who have held this view.

Thanks

Bankei
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:03 am

Bankei wrote:Hi

I have noticed that there are many people out there who reject the Abhidhamma yet still call themselves Theravadins. This includes a few monks. There are others that take the Sutta and Vinaya as primary but still see some (lesser) value in the Abhidhamma.

Why do you think this is so?

A lot of it is ignorance as to what the Abhidhamma says. While I am not an Abhidhamma-walla, I do not see that it should be dismissed out of hand, but I am also not convinced that it is the only true or necessary way of undertstanding the Dhamma. It can be a legitimate path of practice.

Also, there is reason to distinguish between the Abhidhamma Pitaka texts and much later works as the Abhidhammatthasangaha. I would opt for tyhe former over that latter.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:41 am

Greetings Bankei,

Bankei wrote:Why do you think this is so?


A preference for the words of the Fully Enlightened Buddha with respect to the words of other Elders.

Obviously my statement implies that the Buddha did not speak the Abhidhamma Pitaka in its present form, even if its contents may or may not have been derived from actual teachings of the Buddha. The matter of the origins of the Abhidhamma Pitaka has already been discussed in detail in...

The great Abhidhamma Pitaka authenticity debate
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=2169

... so it's probably worth pursuing that aspect of the discussion in that topic rather than rehashing the various arguments here.

The Elders may have had their own wisdom, but the Buddha is cool. 8-)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:45 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Bankei,

Bankei wrote:Why do you think this is so?


A preference for the words of the Fully Enlightened Buddha with respect to the words of other Elders.

The Elders may have had their own wisdom, but the Buddha is cool.

Metta,
Retro.

But the Theravada claims that the Abhidhamma Pitaka is the Buddha's (except for the Kathavatthu), but there is already someplace on this forum a big long thread about that.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:47 am

Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:But the Theravada claims that the Abhidhamma Pitaka is the Buddha's (except for the Kathavatthu).


"The Theravada"?

Is this some entity which was hermetically sealed in 1000AD, frozen in time, defying the laws of aniccata and anattata?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:50 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:But the Theravada claims that the Abhidhamma Pitaka is the Buddha's (except for the Kathavatthu).


"The Theravada"?

Metta,
Retro.

Picky, picky, picky. The Theravada tradition, but as I am writing this I wonder if it is in the actual texts of the AP or is it in the commentaries.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:52 am

Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:Picky, picky, picky. The Theravada tradition, but as I am writing this I wonder if it is in the actual texts of the AP or is it in the commentaries.


I recall it being said that it is a commentarial claim not found within the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself (I may be wrong though).

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:55 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:Picky, picky, picky. The Theravada tradition, but as I am writing this I wonder if it is in the actual texts of the AP or is it in the commentaries.


I recall it being said that it is a commentarial claim not found within the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself (I may be wrong though).

Metta,
Retro.
You are probably correct, but then the issue is what weight is given to the commentaries.

The question of why is the Abhidhamma so quickly dismissed by some is an interesting one. Often, it seems to me, ignorance is the answer.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 24, 2009 9:10 am

Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:The question of why is the Abhidhamma so quickly dismissed by some is an interesting one. Often, it seems to me, ignorance is the answer.


Ignorance of what though, exactly?

If it can be argued that it's not the words of the Buddha (even if possibly derived from them) what makes their dismissal any different to the dismissal of the Mahayana Sutras? Why would the teachings of "our elders" be somehow inherently better than the teachings of "their elders"? Is it just a sectarian perspective, or is it something deeper?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Dec 24, 2009 9:16 am

Hi Tilt,
tiltbillings wrote:... but then the issue is what weight is given to the commentaries.

The question of why is the Abhidhamma so quickly dismissed by some is an interesting one. Often, it seems to me, ignorance is the answer.

As you indicate, it seems very much connected with also dismissing the commentaries. At which point using the label "Theravada" for the "Back to the Suttas" form of Buddhism might be a little misleading, if, as those who advocate this approach argue, the only distinction between the early sects is their Abhidhammas and Commentaries...

Mike
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 24, 2009 9:25 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:The question of why is the Abhidhamma so quickly dismissed by some is an interesting one. Often, it seems to me, ignorance is the answer.


Ignorance of what though, exactly?
Primarily, what the texts actually say. Often we see the dhamma notion of the Abhidhamma get portrayed as being ultimate little atom thingies. Piatigorsky, in his studies of the Theravadin Abhidhamma Pitaka texts (THE BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY OF THOUGHT 1984, 181) points out dharmas are not substances; they are not 'things' in and of themselves:

We simpy cannot say that 'a dharma is... (a predicate follows)', because a dharma, in fact, 'is' no thing, yet [it is] a term denoting (not being) a certain relation or type of relation to thought, consciousness or mind. That is, dharma is not a concept in the accepted terminological sense of the latter, but a purely relational notion.

Nyanaponika ABHIDHAMMA STUDIES page 41 BPS; page 42 Wisdom wrote:By arranging the mental factors in relational groups a subordinate synthetical element has been introduced into the mainly analytical Dhammasangani. By so doing, the danger inherent in purely analytical methods is avoided. This danger consists in erroneously taking for genuine separate entities the “parts” resulting from analysis, instead of restricting their use to sound practical method with the purpose of classifying and dissolving composite events wrongly conceived as unities. Up to the present time it has been a regular occurrence in the history of physics, metaphysics, and psychology that when the “whole” has been successfully dissolved by analysis, the resultant “parts” themselves come in turn to be regarded as little “wholes.”


Prof. Dr. Y. Karunadasa THE DHAMMA THEORY, page 9 wrote:In the Pali tradition it is only for the sake of definition and description that each dhamma is postulated as if it were a separate entity; but in reality it is by no means a solitary phenomenon having an existence of its own. . . . If this Abhidhammic view of existence, as seen from its doctrine of dhammas, cannot be interpreted as a radical pluralism, neither can it be interpreted as an out-and-out monism. For what are called dhammas -- the component factors of the universe, both within us and outside us -- are not fractions of an absolute unity but a multiplicity of co-ordinate factors. They are not reducible to, nor do they emerge from, a single reality, the fundamental postulate of monistic metaphysics. If they are to be interpreted as phenomena, this should be done with the proviso that they are phenomena with no corresponding noumena, no hidden underlying ground. For they are not manifestations of some mysterious metaphysical substratum, but processes taking place due to the interplay of a multitude of conditions. http://www.zeh-verlag.de/download/dhammatheory.pdf


Harvey in his excellent INTRODUCTION TO BUDDHISM, characterizes the Theravadin position, page 87 wrote:"'They are dhammas because they uphold their own nature [sabhaava]. They are dhammas because they are upheld by conditions or they are upheld according to their own nature' (Asl.39). Here 'own-nature' would mean characteristic nature, which is not something inherent in a dhamma as a separate ultimate reality, but arise due to the supporting conditions both of other dhammas and previous occurrences of that dhamma."


A.K. Warder in INDIAN BUDDHISM, page 323, discussing the Pali Abhidhamma commentarial literature, wrote:"The most significant new idea in the commentaries is the definition of a 'principle' or element (dharma): dharmas are what have (or 'hold', 'maintain', dhr. is the nearest equivalent in the language to the English 'have') their own own-nature (svabhaava). It is added that they naturally have this through conditions."


Dhammas in the Theravada Abhidhamma Pitaka are "ultimate things" only as a way of talking aspects about the relational flow of experience, not in terms of describing static realities. In other words, dhammas are empty of self.

Interesting stuff and actually useful stuff in understanding what the Buddha taught.

If it can be argued that it's not the words of the Buddha (even if possibly derived from them) what makes their dismissal any different to the dismissal of the Mahayana Sutras? Why would the teachings of "our elders" be somehow inherently better than the teachings of "their elders"?


Our elders kept, for the most part, to a particular understanding of the Dhamma; the Mahayanists, ah, well, did something else.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 24, 2009 9:32 am

Greetings,

tiltbillings wrote:Interesting stuff and actually useful stuff in understanding what the Buddha taught.


Agreed on this and all the above.

tiltbillings wrote:Our elders kept, for the most part, to a particular understanding of the Dhamma; the Mahayanists, ah, well, did something else.


They kept to a particular understanding of the Dharma too though, we just don't hold it as highly in regard. Others of course may take the opposite perspective.

With all these divergent and conflicting exegeses (or should that be eisegeses?) arising over time, is it any wonder that modern Buddhists increasingly wonder what the Buddha actually taught?

The Buddha is cool. 8-)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 24, 2009 9:40 am

retrofuturist wrote:With all these divergent and conflicting exegeses (or should that be eisegeses?) arising over time, is it any wonder that modern Buddhists increasingly wonder what the Buddha actually taught?

The Buddha is cool.

Thank gawd I do not see Jesus. Being a former Xtian exegesis is my preference.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby Kare » Thu Dec 24, 2009 2:57 pm

retrofuturist wrote:
The Buddha is cool. 8-)



Yes, of course. He says so himself at several occasions: Sitibhutosmi = I am cool! :lol:
Mettāya,
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby Monkey Mind » Thu Dec 24, 2009 6:30 pm

I was taught that Abhidhamma is recommended for advanced students only, that most lay people should not study these texts until they have achieved decent proficiency with "basic" teachings. 20 years later, I still feel I have only mediocre proficiency with "basic" teachings, so I continue to avoid the Abhidhamma. I have recently acquired a copy of translation and commentaries recommended by a trusted teacher, so to celebrate my 20th anniversary I will begin workin on it.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby cooran » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:25 pm

Hello Monkey Mind,

I was taught the exact opposite ...... that the Abhidhamma scriptures are the minutely detailed teachings for absolute beginners. The Abhidhamma needs to be studied deeply and remembered.
After that, and only after that, ought one to be introduced to the Suttas.

The Suttas have the Dhamma deeply embedded in them and need to be unpacked by someone well-versed in the Dhamma in order to be properly understood.

A significant Sutta is like a half page of notes carried by someone who is about to give a two hour lecture .... the half page of notes are only memory prompts and need to be expanded by someone who knows the subject intimately.
The Suttas are not sound bites recorded from a conversation with the Buddha. They were specially put in this form, deeply packed with significant teachings, so that they could be memorised by the Bhanakas and regularly chanted together - so that alterations and errors would not go unnoticed, and would be corrected.

metta
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Re: The Modern Bias against Abhidhamma

Postby Monkey Mind » Thu Dec 24, 2009 8:50 pm

Thank you, Chris, that was encouraging.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710
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