Guide to Tipitaka

Abhidhamma, the Higher Teaching of the Buddha.

Abhidhamma is the third great division of the Pi¥aka. It is a huge collection of systematically arranged, tabulated and classified doctrines of the Buddha, representing the quintessence of his Teaching. Abhidhamma means Higher Teaching or Special Teaching; it is unique in its abstruseness, analytical approach, immensity of scope and conduciveness to one’s liberation.

The Buddha dhamma has only one taste, the taste of liberation. But in Suttanta discourses, the Buddha takes into consideration the intellectual level of his audience, and their attainments in pæramø. He therefore teaches the dhamma in conventional terms (vohæra vacana), making references to persons and objects as I, we, he, she, man, woman, cow, tree, etc. But in Abhidhamma the Buddha makes no such concessions; he treats the dhamma entirely in terms of the ultimate reality (Paramattha sacca). He analyses every phenomenon into its ultimate constituents. All relative concepts such as man, mountain, etc. are reduced to their ultimate elements which are then precisely defined, classified and systematically arranged.

Thus in Abhidhamma everything is expressed in terms of khandhas, five aggregates of existence; æyatanas, five sensory organs and mind, and their respective sense objects; dhætu, elements; indriya, faculties; sacca, fundamental truths; and so on. Relative conceptual objects such as man, woman, etc. are resolved into ultimate components of khandhas, æyatanas, etc. and viewed as an impersonal psycho-physical phenomenon, which is conditioned by various factors and is impermanent (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and is without a permanent entity (anatta).

Having resolved all phenomena into ultimate components analytically (as in Dhammasa³ga¼ø and Vibha³ga) it aims at synthesis by defining inter-relations (paccaya) between the various constituent factors (as in Pa¥¥hæna). Thus Abhidhamma forms a gigantic edifice of knowledge relating to the ultimate realities which, in its immensity of scope, grandeur, subtlety, and profundity, properly belongs only to the intellectual domain of the Buddha.

© Buddha Dharma Education Association > home > back