to both a system of thought and a genre of literature
the name Abidhamma could be translated as "Pertaining
to Dhammas". As a system of thought Abhidhamma grew
out of two trends in early Buddhism. The first of these
was the analytical or reductionist trend. For example
the Buddha taught that the individual
was made up of mind (nama) and body (rupa)
which he often further analysed into the five aggregates.
Each of these aggregates could again be analysed, the
body for example into solidity, fluidity caloricity and
space. This was as far as the Buddha himself went, but
the early Buddhists continued the process of analysis
until they arrived at what they believed to be the most
basic constituents of reality which were called Dhammas.
dhammas were said to be absolutes, not in the sense that
they were ultimate realities but in the sense that they
were not capable of being further analysed. The second
trend that led to the development of Abidhamma was the
particular way that change was seen. The Buddha took an
empirical approach to change, seeing it as taking place
gradually or at different velocities; for example he spoke
of the stream of consciousness (sotavinnana). The
early Buddhists however came to understand change as being
a discreet momentary event. Thus all dhammas were said
to arise, persist for a minute period of time and then
pass completely away before the next dhamma arose.This
was known as the Theory of Moments (Khanavada).
the Buddha's teachings in the suttas are generally
empirical and practical, Abidhamma is speculative and
theoretical. The Sutta Pitakas
of the early Buddhist schools were almost identical while
the Abhidammas theories often differed greatly
from each other. In fact, the early schools and later
the Mahayana, arose as a result of different attempts to
explain the philosophical problems created by both the
Theory of Dhammas and the Theory of Moments.
Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy - A Historical Analysis.
N.K.G. Mendis, The Abhidamma in Practice. Kandy,
C.B. Dharmasena, Aids to Abhidamma Philosophy.