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What is abhidhamma?

The Abhidhamma Pitaka consists of a minute analysis of mind and matter into
their ultimate elements. This gives insight into the teachings of impermanence
and no-self (anicca and anatta). By giving an ethical basis to mental states, it
shows how suffering (dukkha) arises and how it can be brought to an end.

What is Abhidhamma? Is it philosophy? Is it psychology? Is it ethics? Is it metaphysic? It is not very

 It is a philosophy in as much as it deals with the most general causes and principles that 
govern all things

 It is really a system of psychology because it deals with mind, matter, consciousness, mental 
factors and material properties. 

Western Psychology Abhidhamma

Object &  Suject Not­self & Depenent Origination

Spirit activities ( Reason, sentiment, memory, Need to use a higher wisdom(abhiñāṇa)
   Emotion, motivation, unconscious
Analyze, synthetize these activiies in detail
Decode by hypothesis, verifying, experimental science

Not entirely the same in term of psychology

 It is an ethical system or morality because it enables one to realize the ultimate goal, 

Western Ethics Abhidhamma

To set up the general criterion, common measure Mention wholesomes and wholesomes of human
Cannot perfect the human personalitybecause of      mind, not force people to do this, to do that
Different human culture, religion, polictical Guide people to liberation state=> different to 
 Institution worldly ethics
 It goes to consciousness of sensuous sphere. Then it goes to higher states of consciousness 
called fine material­ sphere consciousness. Then again it goes to immaterial­sphere types of 
consciousness. And ultimately it goes to Supra­mundane consciousness. It goes from one 
spiritual stage to another. So it can be called metaphysic

Western Metaphysics Abhidhamma

God, world creation, the 1st entity Rupa, arupa, lokuttara citta
Principles to control universe
Issues beyond the human knowledge, mental faculties Practice to realize, to awake

It is generaly translated as psycho­ethical philosophy of Buddhism

Whereas the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas lay out the practical aspects of the
Buddhist path to Awakening, the Abhidhamma Pitaka provides a theoretical
framework to explain the causal underpinnings of that very path.

The literal translation: abhi - higher or exceeding + dharma- teaching, philosophy, thus making
Abhidharma the "higher teachings"

Abstruse, analytic doctrine of Buddhist canon, being incomparale

 Abstruse in ways of presenting of subtle dhammas, in presenting methods

not in the meaning of providing good result to the liberation for human
 Based on the reasoning

According to tradition, the essence of the Abhidhamma was formulated by the

Buddha during the fourth week after his Enlightenment.[1] Seven years later he
is said to have spent three consecutive months preaching it in its entirety in one
of the deva realms, before an audience of thousands of devas (including his late
mother, the former Queen Maya), each day briefly commuting back to the
human realm to convey to Ven. Sariputta the essence of what he had just
taught.[2] Sariputta mastered the Abhidhamma and codified it into roughly its
present form

1. Handbook of Pali Literature, by Somapala Jayawardhana (Colombo: Karunaratne, 1994),

p. 1.
2. From the Atthasalini, as described in Great Disciples of the Buddha, by Nyanaponika
Thera and Hellmuth Hecker (Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 1997), pp. 45-46.