Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

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Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 25, 2010 1:09 am

Greetings,

In the Pali Canon, we have the Abhidhamma Pitaka. Much of what is discussed by Abhidhamma adherents nowadays is often derived from the post-canonical commentaries, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi's "A Comprehensive Guide To Abhidhamma"... which is in turn based upon an old commentarial treatise of Mahavihara vintage. These commentaries contain information or teachings that are not found in the original Pali Canon - in other words, new post-canonical information, presumably based on the meditative experiences of contempory Abhidhamma masters who recorded their findings during the "commentarial" period.

My multi-part question is this...

Is there still the ability for people to add new Abhidhammic insights, processes, cetasikas, matrices etc. to the accepted body of Abhidhamma knowledge?

If so, how is this done? How does it come to be officially recognised?

If not, on what grounds was it permitted during the commentarial period, and what makes that time different to now? Who decided "Right, we've finally got the full set of all possible Abhidhamma knowledge written down now"?

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: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:02 am

Hi retro,

retrofuturist wrote:My multi-part question is this...
Is there still the ability for people to add new Abhidhammic insights, processes, cetasikas, matrices etc. to the accepted body of Abhidhamma knowledge?

If so, how is this done? How does it come to be officially recognised?

If not, on what grounds was it permitted during the commentarial period, and what makes that time different to now? Who decided "Right, we've finally got the full set of all possible Abhidhamma knowledge written down now"?


If I'm not mistaken, the new material or any changes can only be done at an official Council. There have been about 6 Councils since the parinibbana of Buddha, but only the first four are official. This is because according to the Commentaries it must in a Dhamma age that includes arahants (I presume that it would be so that at least one arahant would be at the Council). After the fourth Council, we are in the Dhamma ending age where the highest attainable state is anagami (non-returner), according to the Commentaries.

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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:14 am

Hi Retro,
retrofuturist wrote:These commentaries contain information or teachings that are not found in the original Pali Canon

I find this curious. Are you so familiar with the Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka that you have found deficits?
kind regards

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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:27 am

retrofuturist wrote:. . - in other words, new post-canonical information, presumably based on the meditative experiences of contempory Abhidhamma masters who recorded their findings during the "commentarial" period.
Or likely based upon scholasticism.

Is there still the ability for people to add new Abhidhammic insights, processes, cetasikas, matrices etc. to the accepted body of Abhidhamma knowledge?
Sure. It is the sort thing someone such Ledi Sayadaw has done.

If so, how is this done? How does it come to be officially recognised?
You write a book/manual, and if it is any good, seems reasonable, stands up to scrutiny of other learned folk, it will likely grow legs.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:41 am

Ben wrote:Hi Retro,
retrofuturist wrote:These commentaries contain information or teachings that are not found in the original Pali Canon

I find this curious. Are you so familiar with the Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka that you have found deficits?
kind regards

Ben
I don't think Retro is saying there are deficis in the suttas. It reads more as an observation.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:54 am

Greetings Ben,

Ben wrote:I find this curious. Are you so familiar with the Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka that you have found deficits?


I don't think deficits is the right term, and I'm not even here comparing the Sutta Pitaka with the Abhidhamma Pitaka or its commentaries. What I'm saying is that there is content in the Abhidhamma commentaries that does not exist in the Tipitaka. That's not a value judgement - merely a statement of fact. A few examples of content found in the commentarial tradition, not found in the Pali Canon include the notion of rebirth-linking consciousness, the concept of mind-moments and extension of that such as the "17 mind moments" model, the heart-base as the physical support for the mind, or for that matter any commentarial term or expression that did not exist prior to the Pali Canon. The Abhidhamma community, including members of DSG, do not dispute these discrepencies and no one disagrees that they are not "additions". Again, that is not a value judgement on whether they are right/wrong, valuable/invaluable etc.

My question relates to these "additions" and the fact the Abhidhamma community tends to accept these older additions as "official" (indeed, seemingly referring to them more in discussion than the original Abhidhamma Pitaka content itself) and whether they would in turn accept modern scholastic/experiential Abhidhamma analysis (by the likes of Mahasi Sayadaw, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Nina van Gorkom etc.) as "official" in the same way they might regards a Mahavihara analysis as official.

If so, why so? If not, why not? In the Abhidhamma community, what differentiaties insights made 1000 or so years after the Buddha, versus those made 2500 years after the Buddha? Do commentarial forecasts on the decline of the Dhamma preclude modern insights as being inherently faulty compared to those of the elders?

Those are the kinds of issues I'm looking to address here.

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: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:58 am

retrofuturist wrote:. . .

Those are the kinds of issues I'm looking to address here.

Metta,
Retro. :)
I would wonder, then, does this discussion belong in the classical section.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 25, 2010 3:34 am

Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:I would wonder, then, does this discussion belong in the classical section


Good question - it's certainly not disputing the Mahavihara's Abhidhamma analysis... it's just attempting to clarify what Abhidhamma practitioners take as "authorative" Abhidhamma nowadays and why (which may or may not equate perfectly to the Mahavihara view).

On that basis, I'll let you decide if it should be moved.

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


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)

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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Feb 25, 2010 3:52 am

Hi Retro,

I think you're right. Thinks like the 17 mind moments and so on are not, as far as I can tell, in the Abhidhamma itself. My guess is that they are in the Canonical Commentaries, but I would welcome clarification. I therefore don't know how much is added in the Visuddhimagga (at around BE1000) and the Abhidhamma Sangaha [AKA Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma in Bhikkhu Bodhi's modern edition] (at about BE 1600). I.e. the interesting question is whether Venerables Buddhagosa and Anuruddha added much that wasn't in the Canonical Commentaries, or whether they simply catalogued and clarified it.
retrofuturist wrote:My question relates to these "additions" and the fact the Abhidhamma community tends to accept these older additions as "official" (indeed, seemingly referring to them more in discussion than the original Abhidhamma Pitaka content itself) ...

Hmm, yes. Have you tried reading the Abhidhamma Pitaka? It's rather dense... Those convenient tables that appear in works such as Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, are summaries of hundreds of pages of text.

Metta
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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby pt1 » Thu Feb 25, 2010 3:55 am

retrofuturist wrote:My question relates to these "additions" and the fact the Abhidhamma community tends to accept these older additions as "official" (indeed, seemingly referring to them more in discussion than the original Abhidhamma Pitaka content itself) and whether they would in turn accept modern scholastic/experiential Abhidhamma analysis (by the likes of Mahasi Sayadaw, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Nina van Gorkom etc.) as "official" in the same way they might regards a Mahavihara analysis as official.

I'd say it depends on how much these new additions would reflect the truth. Truth as in the direct insight into these matters, or if there's no direct insight, then conformity with the Canon and (Mahavihara) commentaries. So, it's kind of the same situation as with the suttanata I think.

I've just attended a (live) abhidhamma discussion with a local group of people, and a lot of vocabulary they are using is quite different from what I'm used to on dsg or in the commentaries (at least those that I've read). But after a while it was possible to make the connections and see that these new terms were really just reflecting the same old things. In most cases that is, so there were a few instances that seemed a bit like a new rendering and new ideas, which I guess is normal for any group of people that meet regularly and develop their own quirks and vocabulary. That's why it's important to have something to fall back on as the bottom line, i.e. the canon and the commentaries.

retrofuturist wrote:In the Abhidhamma community, what differentiaties insights made 1000 or so years after the Buddha, versus those made 2500 years after the Buddha?

Not sure where you get the 1000 years. If we assume that Buddhaghosa and the entire Mahavihara school (to which we owe the existence of Theravada and the Pali canon today) didn't organize an elaborate conspiracy, then Buddhaghosa was only the editor and translator (not creator) of the Sinhala commentaries that were brought to Sri Lanka by arahat Mahinda (son of Asoka). So, even if you don't take the stance of some theravadins that commentaries themselves were recited at the first council as well, then the commentaries cannot be more than 200 or so years younger than the Buddha considering that Mahinda lived in the 3rd century BC I think.

retrofuturist wrote:Do commentarial forecasts on the decline of the Dhamma preclude modern insights as being inherently faulty compared to those of the elders?

I don't really know. I think that Abhidhammattha Sangaha was/is so widely accepted because it's truthful to what's in the abhidhamma pitaka and its commentaries at least. When it comes to more modern writers like Ledi Sayadaw for example, as far as I remember reading, some of his criticism of the commentaries were considered very controversial at the time and several works were written in response that were in turn critical of his findings. So, in situations like this, I think it's important to try and consider all sides of the argument (when possible because most of this stuff is in Burmese or Thai), regardless of whether some modern author is critical or putting forth new ideas about the abidhamma, suttanata, commentaries, etc. The more we can be aware of different views, the more chance I guess we have of not following someone's views blindly. Which of course is pretty much all one can do, since when there's a lack of direct insight, then the only other available option is reliance on views.

Best wishes
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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby pt1 » Thu Feb 25, 2010 4:17 am

mikenz66 wrote: Thinks like the 17 mind moments and so on are not, as far as I can tell, in the Abhidhamma itself. My guess is that they are in the Canonical Commentaries, but I would welcome clarification.

As discussed in the big abhidhamma thread, my understanding is that all the mind moments were already mentioned in the abhidhamma pitaka. So they were only summarised in a nice list in abhidhammattha sangha, not invented. Heart-base too was mentioned in the abhidhamma pitaka, though very briefly. The only thing I'm not sure of is the rebirth-linking consciousness. I.e. I think I read somewhere that the term patisandhi appears even in the suttas, but I haven't the time or the required knowledge right now to explore the issue further. I'm not aware at the moment of any other discrepancies between abhidhammattha sangaha and abhidhamma pitaka.

mikenz66 wrote:I therefore don't know how much is added in the Visuddhimagga (at around BE1000) and the Abhidhamma Sangaha [AKA Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma in Bhikkhu Bodhi's modern edition] (at about BE 1600). I.e. the interesting question is whether Venerables Buddhagosa and Anuruddha added much that wasn't in the Canonical Commentaries, or whether they simply catalogued and clarified it.

Reading the introduction to Visuddhimagga might be helpful, it nicely summarises how Visuddhimagga (and commentaries) likely came into existence, and Buddhaghosa really being very much just an editor rather than commentator.

Best wishes

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Re: Abhidhamma - scope for new commentarial chapters?

Postby tobes » Sun Jan 30, 2011 2:11 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Is there still the ability for people to add new Abhidhammic insights, processes, cetasikas, matrices etc. to the accepted body of Abhidhamma knowledge?

If so, how is this done? How does it come to be officially recognised?

If not, on what grounds was it permitted during the commentarial period, and what makes that time different to now? Who decided "Right, we've finally got the full set of all possible Abhidhamma knowledge written down now"?

Metta,
Retro. :)


I definitely think so. But I don't think it's a matter of adding new insights, processes etc so much as it is demonstrating different cultural and linguistic contexts and making use of the idea that the Abhidhamma is not some archiac scholastic system, but a philosophy which is immanent, living and embodied; that is enriching upon what is already existent in the Abhidhamma.....bringing its often hidden dimensions to light.

After all, is it not one of the seminal metaphysical insights of the Abhidhamma that nothing can be found (except Nibbana) which is static and unrelational? Therefore, the Abhidhamma itself should be considered in this light.

An excellent example of this is conception of the Abhidhamma may be found in the work of Ven Nyanaponika Thera. I think he makes a genuine contribution to the Abhidhamma, but not merely via explication and not by adding something new....but simply by penetrating deeply into it.

The question of what makes something official or canonical is in some ways independent of the first question. I think probably it has a great deal to do with the passing of time and how efficacious particular works have proved to be over long periods of time. In this respect, no one needs to decide: if something stands up for centuries, it will likely become canonical.

:namaste:


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