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Abhidhamma Abhivinaya in the first two of the Pāli Canon

I.B. Horner
The Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol.17:3, Sep.1941

In the first two Pitakas of the Pāli Canon the word abhidhamma occurs now and again. Although not prominent, on the occasions when it appears it is usually in some noteworthy context. Like many another Pāli word it is a word with a history, but a "history of which we know very little."(1) It is the word which at some date, probably between the First Council and Buddhaghosa's time, had attained a sufficient degree of importance to give thd name to the third, the Abhidhamma Pitaka. It did not however spring into existence when the need was felt to draw up a third Pitaka, for it had existed and been used before this event. That the term abhidhamma when found in the first two Pitakas cannot be taken to refer to the third Pitaka, admittedly later, or at least not to it in its finished closed form, unless the term when it occurs can be regarded as a later interpolation, has I think, been amply demonstrated by Oldenberg(2) and Max Muller.(3)

These authorities say nothing to rule out the possibility, which must ever be borne in mind, that the first and second Pitakas, on the occasions when they mention abhidhamma, may be paving the way, however slightly, for the later emergence of the third Pitaka, For as Oldenberg and Max Muller recognise, the stuff of it, the material out of which it grew and on which it was based was in existence before the Pitaka itself. The question is, did the Abhidhamma Pitaka develop in part from anything meant by abhidhamma in the Vinaya and Sutta Pitakas? Can we hope to find in their references to the term any substance out of which the last Pitaka was elaborated? Does any significance which they ascribe to abhidamma lead on by a natural process to its meaning and range as title of the third Pitaka? The task of answering questions such as these is all the harder since the meaning or meanings of abhidhamma in the Vinaya and Suttas is vague and doubtful and cannot be precisely determined.

There is no doubt that the word, especially per- haps as title of the third Pitaka, has some historical connection with quite a different term, namely mātikā. This latter word, which also has a history, came to mean " openings ", and so " headings, lists, summaries." E.J. Thomas says that it is " a term now applied to the lists of subjects discussed in the class of Abhidhamma, but also used as a synonym of Abhidhamma", (4) while Mrs. Rhys Davids remarks that " at the beginning of the Third Pitaka one comes upon a first section called Mātikā (consisting of a dual list of subjects: so many coming under "Abhidhamma", so many under "Suttanta"). And it is presumably out of these mātikās of the former kind that the Abhidhamma-Pitaka was in part developed.(5) They were, as E.M.Hare says, " the proto-abhidhamma." (6)

Passages in the Vinaya, (7) noticed by Mrs. Rhys Davids, and also in the Sutta Pitaka,(8) refer to vinaya, dhamma and mātikā. The word mātikā was evidently dropped at some time in favour of the word Abhidhamma as the name of the third Pitaka, even as the word dhamma gave way to the word Sutta as the name of the second Pitaka. It must be supposed that the mātikā, headings, notes as it were, not written, but memorised and mentally referred to by a teacher when speaking on certain subjects or aspects of certain subjects, were expanded and elaborated into material that, because it was so much fuller and more discursive than the mere lists, was worthy of arrangement as a third Pitaka.The mātikā themselves remain in the Abhidhamma " books ", wher they form tables of contents.

So much then may be accepted as historically sound: that some Vinaya and Sutta references to mātikā are in fact references to the type of material that was later incorporated into the Abhidhamma Pitaka; and that references in these same passage to vinaya and dhamma are in fact references to the

type of material that was incorporated into the Vinaya and Sutta(nta) Pitakas respectively.

But I am not here concerned with questions of the date, the development, the range (9) or the subject- matter of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. I want instead to draw attention to those comparatively rare passages in the Vinaya Pitaka and the Sutta Pitaka where the term abhidhamma occurs. For an analysis of these passages may reveal some part of the history of the word, or of its position and significance in the training, outlook and aspirations of Gotama's early followers.

"Significance" cannot be appreciated unless the meaning be understood. This will to a large extent depend upon the meaning or meanings ascribed to the great word dhamma; but an investigation of this term would be far too lengthy and it has been undertaken by others.(10) Let us here see dhamma as doctrine, as what had been and was being taught to the disciples both by the lord and by his fellow workers, religious views, precepts and sayings which, before being codified into an external body of teaching, were as yet appealing direct to the conscience, dhamma, in man, and to the deity, ātman and dhamma, which in the sixth century B.C. in India was held to be immanent in him. Let us see dhamma as religion, perhaps as philosophy, as that which was man's guide and stay, his urge to lead the good life, brahmacariya, his conscience.

Abhi-, prefixed to a noun, has in general an in- tensive meaning such as super, higher, additional, supplementary; and it can also mean "what pertains to", "concerning." The Atthasālinī, in discussing the prefix abhi- takes it to show "growth, proper attributes, reverence, differentiation and surpassing worth" when prefixed to dhamma.(11) Thus for the compound abhidhamma we get some such phrase as " the higher doctrine", "additional to the doctrine" or "what pertains to the doctrine". It is possible that the cleavage beween these two interpretations is not very great.

Pioneers in Pāli studies thought of abhidhamma as "metaphysics."(12) Sound reasons for rejecting this translation were given by Rhys Davids in 1881.(13) The term had already been subjected to rigorous prunning in 1879 by Oldenberg who, in a note in the Introduction to his edition of the Vinaya-Pitaka, (14) points out the passage in mahāvagga I. 36, 12 where it is required of a teacher that he should be able to instruct his pupil: abhidhamme vinetum abhivinaye vinetum.(15) Oldenberg remarks, "this of course is only meant to say that his instruction is to be in that which pertains to the Dhamma and Vinaya." And this was the rendering he put upon these phrases in translating them in Vinaya Texts in 1881.(16)

Yet in spite of this possible, although less pregnant rendering of abhi-, Rhys Davids in 1894, in translating the Milindapañha, (17) reverted to the earlier notion imputed to abhidhamma of " transcen- dental doctrine," (18) metaphysics. He thus showed a certain partiality for this rendering which I think has influenced all subsequent translators. Yet while pointing out that the pair abhidhamma abhivinaya is " a phrase very instructive as to the correct rendering of the much misunderstood word abhidhamma", he translates it as "the higher subtleties of the Dhamma and the Vinaya". It is very likely that the "subtleties" pervading the seven "books" of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, psycho-logico-ethical (Dhamma- sangani, Vibhanga, Dhātukathā), doctrinal (Kathāvatthu), characterological (Puggalapañññatti), eschatological (Yamaka) and those concerned with logical relations (Patthāna), have also done something to colour translators' views, especially of those working after the complete publication by the Pāli Text Society of all the Abhidhamma "books", as to a suitable rendering for abhidhamma when it does not refer to the third Pitaka. And in this they may not be without justification, the more so if, as does not however seem capable of demonstration, abhidhamma could be established as a connecting term between mātikā and the Abhidhamma Pitaka, expanding the "headings" of the former into the substance of the latter.

Later translators,Mrs. Rhys Davids, Fl.Woodward, E.M.Hare,Chalmers for example, taking abhi-, not as "what pertains to", but as "higher", emphasise to a greater of less degree the "subtlety" which they understand this prefix to imply. The following instances may be adduced:

- Mrs. Rhys Davids,Dialogues, iii.246, "the advanced teaching of Doctrine."

- F. L. Woodward, Gradual Sayings, i. 276 "extra doctrine."

- F. L. Woodward, Gradual Sayings, v.19 (20,64), 139, 217 "further doctrine."

- E.M.Hare, Woodward, Gradual Sayings, iii. 85, iv. 267, "more-Dhamma."

- Lord Chalmers, Further Dialogues, i.155, "quintessential Doctrine."

- Lord Chalmers, Further Dialogues, i.333, "higher branches of the Doctrine."

- E.J.Thomas, History of Buddhist Thought, p. 159, "special dhamma."

- E.J.Thomas, History of Buddhist Thought, p. 276, "further dhamma or special dhamma."

- G.P.Malalasekera,Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names (art:Abhidhamma Pitaka), "special dhamma (i.e the doctrine pure and simple without admixture of literary treatment and personalities,etc.)."

This "special dhamma," as Malalasekera implies, refers to the mode of teaching found in the Abhidhamma Pitaka. This is by general, abstract statements, nippariyāyena,(19) andis thus opposed to the Suttanta method which is pariyāyena, that is ad bominem, with picturesque, illustrative and figurative language. This method is as vivid and compelling as the Abhidhamma method is dry and scholastic.

In addition, two of the above translators, no doubt realisting the shifting and elusive nature of the word abhidhamma, have in their translations also kept the word in Pāli(20) with capital A, as though it stood, if not for the third Pitaka in its completed state, then for it in some embryonic state. And it is very possible that these two careful scholars and excellent translators did mean abhidhamma, in these contexts where they leave it untranslated, to have such a reference. It is true that Oldenberg and Max Muller, by basing their arguments on the Vinaya accounts, have established that the Abhidhamma as a Pitaka was not known by the time of the first Council. But yet, since a third Pitaka was at some time found worthy to take its place beside the other two Pitakas, not only must the material of which it came to be composed have had some existence prior to the compilation of this Pitaka itself, but it must have been of such a date or nature as to fit suitably into neither the Vinaya Pitaka nor the Sutta Pitaka.

I would also point out that the compilation of the third Pitaka was probably not begun until the other two were closed, and was perhaps only begun when need was felt to clear up and, by catechetical methods, to pronounce upon some outstanding and still debatable points. In this case, the meaning, whatever it is, of abhidhamma in its occurrences in the two older Pitakas, will not necessarily have developed into whatever is the meaning of Abhidhamma as the name of the third Pitaka. Who can say, for example, whether the monks who were talking abhidhamma talk (G.S. iii. 280) or those who were holding divergent views upon abhidhamma (Fur. Dial. ii. 137) were dealing with a type of subject that was later collected into the third Pitaka, or whether they were concerned with the doctrine pure and simple as this had been transmitted to them, and unembellished by additional material calling for specially erudite mastery and learning?

The Commentaries cannot yield one reliable, stable meaning for abhidhamma. When they interpret the term, which is not always, as often as not some common factor, providing a sure clue to any growing or grown agreement, as to a definite meaning, is lacking. VA. 990 calls it "analysisinto name and form," nāmarūpapariccheda,(21) which indeed has quite a taste of the third Pitaka about it. AA.iii. 271 says that it is " the best (or highest) doctrine,uttamadhamma; MA.iv.29, "very distinguished doctrine", abhivisittha dhamma. MA. III 185 takes the term to stand for the Pitaka of that name, adding that it cannot exist without the Dhamma-hadayavibh- anga(22) together with the Duka and Tika (-ppatthānas, here called mātikā). DA. 1047 and the Commentary on A.v.24 are perhaps the most interesting. They are identical. They regard as fourfold: dhamma abhidhamma vinaya abhivinaya, and give two explanatons for each word, thus: dhamma is the SuttaPitaka, abhidhamma the seven pakaranāni, literary compositions (into which the Abhidhamma Pitaka was eventually arranged), vinaya the two Vighangas, and abhivinaya the Khandhakas and the Parivāra. The three Pitakas are thus accounted for, with the Vinaya divided under two headings. Alternatively, these Commentaries call dhamma the SuttaPitaka and the AbhidhammaPitaka, abhidhamma the fruits and the ways, maggaphalāni; vinaya the whole of the VinayaPitaka, and abhivinaya the task of allaying the corruptions, kilesavpasamakarana.

In this last interpretation of abhivinaya,and it is the only one of its kind, presumably inner mental discipline is set in antithesis to the external control of the outward behaviour of monks as promulgated in the Pātimokkha rules. As such, it was further, higher, extra. Likewise would abhivinaya have this meaning if taken to stand for "the whole of the Vinaya Pitaka." For then it would surely imply a wide knowledge,a deep understanding and a full mastery of Vibhangas, Khandhakas and perhaps of the later Parivāra.It would doubtless include a knowledge of the history of the rules, the ability to answer questions such as were put at the first Council: where, because of what, in regard to whom and so on, were the various rules promulgated, their reasons and explanations, their exceptions, the agreements and discrepancies of various comparable rules, their groupings, their cross-references from Vibhangas to Khandhakas and vice versa, and so forth along many lines of study.

But no Pitakan passage throws any light on what was meant by abhivinaya. A Parivāra passage (23) says that vinaya is a designation or description, paññatti, and abhivinaya an analysis or classification, vibhatti. But this is as near as we get. And this is in a compilation that is admittredly later than the rest of the Vinaya Pitaka. While this passage is I think the only Pitakan reference to abhivinaya in separation from abhidhamma, in those other cases where the two are associated, it is safe to assume that the abhi will have the same connotation; so that if we say "the higher doctrine" we must say "the higher discipline," and if "what pertains to the doctrine" then "what pertains to the discipline."

While I think it very likely that there are not more than ten references to the word abhidhamma in the first two Pitakas (not counting parallel passages, of which there may be five or six), in four of these the word is closely associated with abhivinaya. Thus although abhidhamma is found standing unaccompanied by abhivinaya, with the exception of the late passage just referred to abhivinaya is not found dissociated from abhidhamma. This relatively infrequent pair of terms no doubt derives from a more frequent, probably comprehensive and undoubtedly great pair, dhamma vinaya. In this, dhamma usually precedes vinaya, as is also always the case in the derivative pair.

Let us now look at those four occasions when the derivative pair appears in the Vinaya and Sutta Pitakas. In the Mahāvagga of the Vinaya (24) the ability to teach abhidhamma and abhivinaya to a pupil is brought forward as two out of a group of five qualities, among a long list of other groups, each of five qualities, the possession of which marks a monk as one able to ordain, to give guidance and to be waited upon by a novice. Although these groups are not exactly stereotyped, the whole passage could only have come to fruition in its present stylistic form at a comparatively late stage in the growth of the canon. Yet Oldenberg is probably right in seeing here in abhi- "what pertains to", rather than the "higher". For a monk would hardly instruct a pupil in " higher doctrine and discipline", but he should be able to teach him what pertains to doctrine and discipline.

In the Sangīti Suttanta,(25) among the ten qua- lities that "make for warding" is that conveyed by the sentence: "a monk strives after doctrine, dhammakāma, he is pleasant to converse with, he rejoices exceedingly, ulārapāmujja, in abhidhamma abhivinaya." This whole passage on "living warded" also appears at Ang. v.23 f. while Ang. v. 25 states that a monk who lives so warded may be considered by the elders, by those of middle standing and by the novices as fit for encouragement. The same quality, of striving after doctrine, etc., also occurs among those ten qualities endowed with which an elder is said to live happily or comfortably, phāsuviharati,(26) and again it is given as one of the ten traditional marks of a believer,(27) and yet again as one of the ten conditions to be remembered as conducing to concord and harmony.(28) This passage then, recurring six times in identical terms, and always in a set of ten items,(29) may be said to have attained the status of a formula. In an oral and then literary method which came to rely so greatly as did Pāli on the use of formulae for learning and teaching, it is worth noticing that abhidhamma abhivinaya were not left out. I have quoted their formulae. In it they are associated with dhamma as dhammakāma; and in it they are qualified by a very strong expression, ulāra-pāmujja, "an exceeding delight in."

Now I do not think that this expression would have been used unless abhidhamma abhivinaya had been intended to stand for something more than dhamma and vinaya, perhaps in the sense of some more than usually complete grasp and mastery of them due to further study and reflection, and resulting in a specially scrupulous observance of the matters inculcated by them. A monk becomes one who is fond of doctrine, strives after it, and he is also one who rejoices exceedingly in what concerns it and what concerns discipline. And this may no doubt be in regard to their higher and more controversial reaches, or to his power to grasp the various parts of either in relation to its whole, or to their subjective demands on him to put forth greater energy in acting with conscience and discipline as his guides.

With this use of abhi- as standing for "something more" in the sense suggested, one might compare the prefix abhi- in the triad abhisīla abhicitta adhipaññā. The descriptions of these conditions given at Ang. i. 235 to my mind make it quite clear that abhi- here points to "the higher morality, the higher thought, the higher wisdom," and should therefore not be translated by "as to" morality, etc., as in other contexts might be allowable. A Vinaya passage(30) also lends weight to this view, a I have elsewhere attempted to show.(31) So too does the Commentary on this Anguttara passage itself.(32) It puts forward no hint of abhi- here standing for "as to," and although not explicitly equating abhi- with ati-, "superior," the meaning is shown to be tantamount to this. For the Commentary explains: "sīla is called the five precepts ( of morality, sīla), deriving from that abhisīla means the ten precepts, and deriving from that it means the four precepts of purity. Also all morality that is worldly is sīla, what is other-worldly is abhisīla. But thought (citta) is thought about the realm of sense desires, deriving from that, if it is about the realm of form it is called abhicitta, then deriving from that, if it is about the realm of formlessness it is called abhicitta. The same holds good of wisdom." Here then is a clear issue, the Anguttara Commentary saying in no uncertain terms that abhi- is here taken as meaning "higher, superior."

The pair of terms,abhidhamma abhivinaya, appears again in a passage at Ang. i.288f. = Ang. iv.397ff. This sets out to determine how a young man may be gifted with speed, beauty and good proportions. The criterion of speed is said to be knowledge of the four truths of ill; that of good proportions the ability to get as alms the four requisites of a monk's life: robe, food, lodgings and medicine. The four truths of ill and alms came to play such important rules in their own ways and spheres that they can hardly fail to throw a reflected glory on the criterion of beauty: the young man's ability not to falter but to solve questions(33) put to him on abhidhamma abhivinaya. For it cannot be conceded that this concept ever attained such eminence as to stand beside the truths and the alms on its own merits and without borrowing something of their own significance from them. The passage is stylised and comparatively late, and its internal evidence provides no clue to the meaning that abhidhamma and abhivinaya may bear here.

Mrs. Rhys Davids has shown in several of her more recent books that the teaching on the four noble truths, as this has been handed down,(34) did not belong to the original or even to the earliest Sakya, but was a doctrine that by laying an increased insistence on ill, became rooted as the monastic vogue grew in stature and strength. As such it was however of undoubted potency and importance. Again, alms-gathering and all that this implied for monks and to a lesser degree fo donors, was far from being a purely mundance practical business devoid of inner meaning and feature. At the same time the four types of alms that this passage has in mind, and they are the ones which came to be generally used by monks, are in the Vinaya called "extra allowances" to those austere necessities originally prescribed and doubtless exclusively used by Gotama's earliest followers, a later they were the only ones used by some of his more ascetic followers. In view of these considerations, it is not here possible to see in abhidhamma abhivinaya terminology dating from the first inception of the Sakyan movement. Both must be out-growths of and presuppose the existence of an earlier doctrine and an earlier discipline, which had however attained to sufficient degree of coherency and form as to be capable of rational study and application.

E.J. Thomas, referring to this passage, (35)says "evidently an elaboration and analysis of the doctrinal principles is intended, just as abhivinaya would mean a casuistic discussion of the rules of discipline." There is unluckily no "evidence" for this remark, although its general sentiment may be right. All such ascriptions of meaning to abhidhamma in passages where the internal evidence is of no avail are transcriptions to it of the subject matter of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, of the treatment there accorded to this subject matter, and of the method of approach that is used. There is no Abhivinaya Pitaka, so no analogous deduction could hold good. I have outlined above the kind of thing I think might have been meant by abhivinaya. I would hesitate to subscribe to the view that it means a "casuistic discussion of the rules of discipline." Cases of conscience were not resolved by discussion, but by an appeal to the rule that the offender had infringed and to the legal examptions and exceptions which always accompany the statement of the rule. Moreover the Vinaya itself lays down no broad principles of ethics which could be applied to individual instances. The Vinaya is a mass of particular rules made to fit particular cases of unsuitable behaviour. Some of the moral grounds and the ideal which inspired this system of practical ethics are undoubtedly to be found in the Suttas. But if anyone were to decide matters of conscience or of behaviour not legislated for in the Vinaya, or apply general principles to individual cases, I should then say that, because he had to take this stand on Sutta rather than on Vinaya material, he was dealing with abhidhamma and not with abhivinaya.

The fourth occasion when the pair abhidhamma abhivinaya occur is in the Gulissāni Sutta. (36) This is a record of a talk ascribed to Sāriputta about a jungle monk. First, twelve ways are given in which such monk should become, bhavitabham, one endowed with certain qualities. For example, he should know how to behave on his almsround, he should become one who is composed, sedate, of pleasant speech, amiable, energetic, vigilant and mindful, he should become one to guard his faculties and to possess wisdom and concentration. All such conduct of body and mind, stated in an ascending scale of values, is recognisable as deriving from Vinaya and Suttapitaka material. After this stress on what a jungle monk should become (and even more so one from a village, as Sāriputta is recorded to say), there follow three cases, interesting and baffling, where endeavour is to be made, yogo karanīyo, by him. There is first abhidhamma abhivinaya. Endeavour is to be made in these. Next it should be made in those formless freedoms which transcend form, vimokhā āruppā; and thirdly it should be made in conditions of further- men, uttarimanussa-dhammā.(37)

This last was of such prime concern and importance as to attract legislation in the Pārājika group of offences, those offences, and there are no more than four of them, which entailed the severest penalty, expulsion from the Order, to which a monk could be subjected. While there is reason to suppose that the teaching on uttarimanussadhammā was not a particularly late comer into Sakyan thought, there is no reason to suppose anything of the kind about the formless freedoms. Had both these conceptions had either the appearance of earliness or of lateness, it might have been easier to assess the significance of abhidhamma and abhivinaya in this passage.

Although neither the concept of freedom nor that of states of furthermen was ever central in the Sakyan teaching, both were of some consequence, the one more in the Suttas and the other perhaps more in the Vinaya. It can hardly be maintained that abhidhamma abhivinaya are shedding lustre on these concepts simply because they appear as the first member of this triad. For in the preceding bhavitabham list of desirable conduct and progress, less important and more elementary things stand first and more important, weightier things last. There is no reason to suppose a reversal of this upwardmounting process in the three cases where endeavour is to be made.(38) On the other hand, any value that abhidhamma abhivinaya may have acquired, and one inclines to think that this will not have been slight, will not have been by reason of their grouping with freedom and states of furthermen, but by reason of their derivation from dhamma and vinaya.

This remained incalculably the superior, indeed the greatest of all pairs, perhaps the greatest of all concepts. But the jungle monk is not expected to make endeavour in these themselves. Two aspects of them, freedom and states of furthermen, have been ruled out with their specific mention. Is the monk then to make endeavour in any or all of those other numerous, but here undetermined, aspects of doctrine and discipline? This is surely too lop-sided to be reasonable. The possibility then occurs : are abhid- hamma abhivinaya meant to represent an endeavour to gain leaning and mastert in matters affectubg the here and now, while the freedoms and states of furthermen represent a field for endeavour that is to be made in other-worldly aspirations? If so, one may conclude tentaively that the purpose of these three concepts is to cover endeavour in the two spheres of worldly and other-worldly matters. And this would be no straining of the early Buddhist outlook and teaching. In this I think uttarimanussa-dhammā will certainly not have been absent, and vimokkhā, although probably in its older form of vimutti, a term taken over from earlier and contemporary teachings, will also have had a part ot play. If the whole passage shows signs of later reduction, this does not prevent it from drawing upon some older traditions.

We come now to three separate occasions,recorded in the Majjhima and Anguttara, of the term abhidhammakathā, talk on abhidhamma. At M. i.214, quoted at Asl. 28-29, Moggallāna is reputed to give as his answer to the question of what would illumine the Gosinga Wood, the view that if two monks are talking abhidhamma talk and ask each other questions which they solve without being floored, then their dhamma talk, dhammi kathā, becomes lovely. It thus seems that the power to converse on abhidhamma improves talk on doctrine, and that this is the important thing. The Atthasālinī appears to support this view when it says: "Tradition has it that just the monks who know abhidhamma (abhidhammi-kabhikkhū) are called talkers on doctrine; the rest, though talking doctrine, are not talkers on doctrine(dhammakathikā).(39)

Mrs. Rhys Davids sees in this talk the meaning of "higher dharma."(40) She naturally rejects as unlikely the possibility that Moggallāna "meant anything like the dreary catechisms of the Abhidhamma books." Pointing out that "higher dharma, abhidhamma, we do not associate with Moggallāna (41)....(and that) we must be here up against an older use of the term", that is older than the Abhidhamma as a Pitaka, she concludes that we have Moggallāna "saying what we might call a talk about conscience, or about God." Indeed it may well be that when specific points of doctrine, now found in the Sutta Pitaka, had been thrashed out and clarified by some abhidhamma process, by analysis for example of their more detailed intentions and relation, or by assembling the synonyms, then from that larger knowledge of dhamma, that reserve of knowledge, would that same dhamma gain in clarity of expression.

Turning now to Ang. iii,392, an episode is given where "several elders" were talking abhidhamma talk. It is recorded that a monk, Cittahatthisāriputta, (42) interupted so much that Kotthita asked him to wait until the talk was over. But Citta's friends stood up for him, rebuked Kotthita for his censure, and declared that Citta was wise and able to talk abhidhamma talk to the elders. This context suggests that the talk was on something specially difficult or weighty.

Now Mahākotthita, although outliving him, was one of Gotama's earliest disciples.(43) This would quite rule out the possibility that the talk would have been "regarding the Abhidhamma",as Malalasekera affirms.(41) Yet Mahākotthita is called in the Etad Aggas "chief of the disciples who are masters of logical analysis", and it was he who, in the Mahāvedalla-sutta,(45) catechised Sāriputta, not it may be remarked as master to pupil, but as two mature minds exchanging views. Such records must tend to raise the question whether we have here in Kotthita a monk who was expert in the logic and catechetical method which afterwards came to form part of the Abhidhamma material and process, but which were in his time in all likelihood no more than the bare framework on which the third Pitaka later came to be erected. It is tempting to see some such connection between Kotthita, at least present on one occasion when there was abhidhamma talk or, according to the Digha Commentary being one of the two interlocutors on this occasion, and the ascription to him of such special branches of learning: logic and catechism, as form part of the stuff out of which the Abhidhamma Pitaka was composed.

On the third occasion when the term abhidhammakathā occurs, two points should be noticed: first, that it is unique to find abhidhamma in juxtaposition with vedalla, a catechism on fragments or miscellaneous disconnected subjects; and secondly, that it is here also federated with the pair dhamma vinaya, doctrine and discipline. There is one other example of this latter association, to which we will turn next. Here we are concerned with Ang. iii. 107, where it is stated that one of the five dangers in the way of monks who are untrained in body, morals, mind and wisdom is that when they are talking abhidhamma talk and vedalla talk, entering on a "dark doctrine," (46) they will not be awake (to the meaning, na bujjhissanti). The passage ends as do those for the four other "dangers", by saying, "thus from corrupt doctrine comes corrupt discipline, from corrupt discipline comes corrupt doctrine." This is the leading concern: to keep doctrine and discipline pure, and not to confuse them by ignorant talk on abhidhamma and vedalla. Yet it is hereby tacitly admitted that talk on abhidhamma can affect one's views of dhamma.

Even if it be conceded that the vedalla method of procedure is of some antiquity, it cannot be deduced that abhidhamma, when so closely associated with it, is also a word belonging to some early date. For it must be remembered that any such proximity of terms may all too easily be due to later interpolation and thus can afford no safe guide.

The other passage where abhidhamma is associated with dhamma and vinaya is in the Kintisutta, Maj. ī. 239. This is perhaps the most illuminating extant Pitakan reference to abhidhamma. The lord is recorded to tell his disciples that they should train in the "profound-knowledge-things" (or states, conditions), dhammā abhiññā, taught by him. It is most interesting to find these dhamma abhiññā apparently having here nothing to do with(47) the five abbiññā of a psychic nature, with the knowledge of the destruction of the āsavā added as a sixth, which became collected and codified into a formula, the chalabhiñña, and which took complete precedence over every other possible meaning or association of abhiññā. For the lord, so it is said, here explained the dhammā abhiññā by the things helpful to enlightenment, the bodhipakkhikad- hammā. He is not shown as using this generic term, which naturally came later into being than either its thirty-seven component parts or the seven categories under which these were classified. But he names each f these categories. When the monks have trained in these things, the lord is reputed immediately to go on to say, there may be two monks holding different views on abhidhamma. Those who had trained in the bodhipakkhikadhammā were to summon these in turn and get each to recognise his error. When the error is recognised as an error, then yo dhammo yo vinayo so bhāsitabbo, that which is doctrine, that which is discipline, can shine forth.

Again this stands out as the major point. Further it seems as if doctrine and discipline can only shine forth after divergent views on abhidhamma have been composed, and as if this is a task to be done by monks who have trained in the things helpful to enlightenment, here called also profound-knowledge- things. This is what the context seems trying to say. It strongly suggests that abhidhamma implies the higher reaches of the training: those things helpful to enlightenment, and which at the end of his ministry the dying Gotama is found recommending to his disciples. To clear up misconceptions regarding these things is to throw light on doctrine and discipline, and even on doctrine in all its fulness, dhammassa (c) ƒnudhamma, a point made in the last paragraph of the Kintisutta.

It may be noted that the Vibhanga, one of the Abhidhamma "books", has a long analysis of the bodhipakkhikadhammā,thus supporting the kintisutta's evidence that these formed part of the subject matter of abhidhamma.

We have now noticed two cases where abhidhamma stands in some relation to vinaya, anticipating in name if in nothing more the first and the third Pitakas. Now in Vin. iv, there are two occasions where abhidhamma and vinaya are again associated. On both of these the word dhamma is absent, whereas in the passages we have just noted it had been present. But on both of these Vinaya occasions there is present, not only the word vinaya, but also suttanta, the word which gave its name to the second Pitaka. These passages are at Vin. iv. 144 (Monks' Pācittiya lxxii) and Vin. iv. 344 (Nuns' Pācittiya XCV). Both are cited by the Atthasālinī to show that abhidhamma is the lord's word.(48)

In the former,these three terms, vinaya, suttanta, abhidhamma, are also associated with gāthā, songs, poems, metric verses. This quartet is unique in Pāli canonical literature. A monk may say to another: "Master suttantas or verses (both plural) or abhidhamma (singular) and afterwards you will mater discipline." The very presence of the word "verses" is enough to preclude the word abhidhamma from standing for the literary exegesis of that name, Indeed no reference to the three Pitakas as such would have combined a reference to part of the material, verses, which one of them eventually came to include.

The reference to gāthā no doubt points to a time subsequent to the composition of at any rate some of these. But again we are in ignorance of much of the history of Pāli Buddhist verse-making. Yet the evidence which has been adduced from its study,(49) and it is by no means negligible, shows it must have taken a long time for say the Dhammapada, Suttainpāta, and the Verses of the Elders and the Women Elders to reach their final form. So that Oldenberg may be substantially right when he says that gāthās are "here meant to represent the different texts comprised in the Khuddakanikāya."(50) Only we must qualify this view by saying : "texts which came at some later date to be copmrised in the Kluddakanikāya at its final revision." For with verses being made since very early days, there is no reason to infer that the "verses" or songs mentioned at Vin. iv. 144 are meant to refer to any completed collection or collections of verses. It is therefore not possible to conclude that the presence of this word suggests such a late date for this passage as to justify seeing here in abhidhamma the title of the third Pitaka, in spite of its proximity to words which were used as titles for the two earlier Pitakas.

Moreover this Pācittiya purports to refer to the time when Upāli, the great Vinaya expert, was alive. But since he could not have long survived the First Council, in the Vinaya accounts of which there is no mention of the Abhidhamma, this as a Pitaka could not well have been compiled and completed until after his death.

The triad found in Nuns' Pācittiya xcv,suttanta vinaya abhidhamma, stands as a perfect triad without the addition of any fourth member. This is, so far as I know, with the exception of a line of verse in the admittedly later Parivāra, (51) unique in Pāli canonical literature. A nun, according to this Pācittiya, having obtained a monk's permission to ask him about suttanta, commits an effence of expiation if she asks him instead about vinaya or abhidhamma; and it is the same with the two variations on this theme. Oldenberg states that this is "the only passage in the Vinaya which really presupposes the existence of an Abhidhamma Pitaka, (52) and that "we can unhesitatingly assume" these words to be an interpolation. Which exact "words" he means is not quite clear, since he only italicises abhidhamma. But he probably means no more than abhidhamma vā.

Although I think that Oldenberg is very likely indeed to be right, and there is no internal evidence to suggest that he is wrong, or indeed to suggest anything helpful at all, I cannot feel myself so entirely convinced as he appears to be that the Abhidhamma Pitaka was in existence by the time that this passage was formulated. The main reason why I think he may be right is that here we have a triad, unadulterated and unique in the canon, which supplies the names of what, at some time, came to be constituted as the three Pitakas. Where abhidhamma is combined with abhivinaya we can be far less certain of its having this reference, indeed fairly certain that it has not. But where as in this Pācittiya, abhidhamma is so closely associated with vinaya and with suttanta, but with nothing else, then an assumption such as Oldenberg's gains in plausibility.

On the other hand, although it is true that in the Nuns' Pācittiya group, Pāc. xcv is the last but one of the rules there formulated, we should not be too much swayed by this consideration. For the position of a rule in the class in which it is placed is no sure guide to its comparative date. For example, in the Monks' Pācittiya group, some of the rules towards the end have a much earlier ring than some of those which precede them and which assume the existence of certain constitutional develop- ments, such as could only have arisen when the Order had attained some degree of long-standing. In a word, it may be s aid that the rules are not now arranged in the order in which the were promulgated, and they thus yield no reliable evidence for the history of their formulation.

Again, it cannot be too often emphasised, as Max Muller wrote several years age, (53) that the "three subjects of Dhamma (sutta), Vinaya and Abhidhamma treated in these baskets" (of the Suttas, of Vinaya and of Abhidhamma) "existed and were taught long before the three baskets were definitely arranged." Bearing this in mind, it may be suggested that at the time when this Pācittiya was formulated the whole teaching had done no more than reach a stage when it was capable of division into these three baskets, but that the final division and arrangement had not as yet been made.

We therefore find ourselves in great uncertainty as to what in any of the Pitakan passages that we have noticed is the meaning and intention of the word abhidhamma. This word, held as it is, not to refer to the Pitaka of that name, and with the one possible exception this seems the only tenable hypothesis, commands no unanimity of interpretation in the Commentaries. I think we may agree that the word, if not as puzzling to the commentators as to ourselves, had for them a fluctuating meaning, and was thus able to be explained in one way in one passage and in another way in another passage.

We have now found records where Moggallāna, Mahākotthita, Cittahatthisāriputta and "several elders" were concerned with abhidhamma talk, abhidhammakathā, and once (Ang. iii. 107) the word is put into the lord's mouth. Again, abhidhamma itself is connected with Sāriputta; on other occasions the lord is made responsible for using this word, while on still others it occurs in the Vinaya apparatus. It is perhaps not insignificant that the compound Abhidhammakathā is connected with the names of some of Gotama's earliest disciples. although Moggallāna is chiefly famed for his psychic powers, and there is little reason to suppose him to have had gifts of an abhidhamma nature or we should have heard more about them, there is doubtless some excuse for connecting the term with Mahākotthita, as explained above with Sāriputta on the grounds of his taking part with Kotthita in the catechetical discussion now preserved in the Mahāvedallasutta, and with Cittahatthisāriputta. Very little has survived concerning this disciple. But he is shown in the Potthapāda Suttanta as sitting by while the wanderer Potthapāda and Gotama discuss aspects of the self, attā, then as asking a penetrating question about the three modes of self, past, present and future, and then as resolving this question in a manner approved by Gotama. Eschatological matters, such as are foreshadowed in the Potthapāda Suttanta, were later analysed in some of the Abhidhamma "books."

On the other hand the linking to these names of the term abhidhamma may have no foundation in fact, but may be due to the desire of "editors", working years later on the Sayings, to give the term the value they felt was owing to it on account of a growth in their day of a vogue for studying an abhidhamma class of thought. Conversely, this class of thought would also gain in repute if it could be made to trace its beginnings to some of the more eminent personalities in the Order.

Of one thing we may be certain, and it is that abhidhamma was never meant to oust dhamma from its pre-eminent position. This remained immeasurably the more central and the more potent word and concept of the two. Abhidhamma is nowhere extolled as a prize of learning bringing its own rewards, and only to be mastered by the greatest intellects. Rather it appears as accessory material to dhamma, supplementary to it, illuminating it, it is true, but not necessary for those who will become, if they are willing to train, highest in the immortal because they live having dhamma as light, dhamma as refuge.(54)


1. Mrs.Rhys Davids, Manual of Buddhism, London, 1932, p.27.

2. Vinaya Pitakam vol. i. 1879, Intr. p. xff.

3. Dhammapada (S.B.E.X), 1st edn. 1881(2nd edn.1898, 1924), Intr.xl ff.

4. Hist. Bud. Thought, p. 266.

5. Manual of Buddhism, p.27.

6. G.S. iii. 134, n. 2.

7. Vin. i. 119, 337, ī.8.

8. M. i. 223, A. i. 117, ī. 147, iii. 179 361, D. ī. 125, all stock formula. See E.J.Thomas, Hist. Bud. Thought, p. 266, n.1 (where for Ang. ī, 167 read 147, and for Dīgha ī, 123 read 125).

9. See Max Muller, Dhammapada, 2nd edn., p. xvii; Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, 1881, p. 49f. Mrs. Rhys Davids, Sakya, p. 401ff.; B.C. Law Hist. Pāli Lit. i, p.303ff.; E.J. Thomas, Hist.Bud. Thought, 274.

10. Mrs. Rhys Davids in several recent works, and W.Geiger, Pāli Dhamma, 1920.

11. Asl. 20.

12. Childers, Dictionary, 1879; Max Muller, Dhammapada, 2nd edn., p.xvii. See also the reason given for this translation by E. J. Thomas, Hist. Bud.Thought, p. 285.

13. Hibhert Lectures, 1881, p.49.

14. Vol. i, Intr. p. xii, n.2.

15. Quoted in Asl. 20.

16. For the division of this work of translating the Vinaya into Vinaya Texts, see Book of the Discipline, i, Editiorial Note, p. lxi.

17. Questions of King Milinda, 237, where see n.2.

18. Childers Dictionary

19. Asl. 317, Vism. 473, 499.

20. Chalmers, Fur. Dial., ii 137; E.M. Hare, G.S., iii 280. Neither annotates the word.

21. Also the name of an Abhidhamma Pitaka treatise, published in J.P.T.S. 1914

22. Last portion of the Vibhanga.

23 Vin. v.2.

24. Vin. i. 64; cf. i, 68 and above, p. 294.

25. D. iii. 267.

26. A. v. 201.

27. A. v. 339.

28. A. v. 89ff.

29. The ten items, of which this is one,are not on all the occasions when they occur quite the same as one another.

30. Vin. iii.234

31. B.D. ii. 94, n.3.

32. AA. ī. 345-6.

33. These same words are used in connection with abhidhammakathā at M. i.214, see below, p. 303, thus so far as they go being stereotyped.

34. Gotama the Man, p.42ff.

35. Hist. Bud. Thought, p.276.

36. M. i. 469ff.

37. See B.D. i. Intr. xxiv f.

38. The Pārājika concerned with states of futher men is the last of the Pārājika rules. It is possible that these are arranged in an ascending scale of importance.

39. Asl. 29.

40. Manual of Buddhism, p.213.

41. But see DA.379.

42. Mentioned at D.i.190,199ff. as a friend of the wanderer Potthapāda. See Dial. i. 256, n.i.At DA. 379, it is said that the talk was held between Moggallalana and kotthita.

43. Mrs. Rhys Davids, Gotama the Man, pp. iii,114.

44. D.P.P.N. under "Citta called Hatthirohaputta" and under "Cittahatthi-sāriputta Sutta."

45. Maj. Sutta XLIII.

46. Kanhadhamma, cf. Dhp. 87, A.v. 253.

47. Unless we except iddhi which occurs both in the list of chalabhiñña and of bodhipakkhikadhammā

48. Asl. 28.

49. See Introduction by Max Muller, Dhammapada (S.B.E.X); Chalmers, Buddha's Teachings (Suttanipāta, H.O.S. 37); Mrs. Rhys Davids, Dhammapada (S.B.B. vii.), and her Poems by Monk and Nun, Review of Religion, January, 1940.

50. Vinaya Pitakam, vol. i. Intr. p. xii, n. 2.

51. Vin. v. 86.

52. Vinaya Pitakam, vol. i. Intr. p. xii. n.2.

53. Dhammapada (S.B.E. X) 2nd edn., Intr. p.xli.

54. D. ii.101


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