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A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma

by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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This modern translation of the Abhidhammattha Sangaha (Manual of Abhidhamma) offers an introduction to Buddhism's fundamental philosophical psychology. Originally written in the 11th or 12th century, the Sangaha has served as the key to wisdom held in the Abhidhamma. Concisely surveyed are Abhidhamma's central themes, including states of consciousness and mental


This modern translation of the Abhidhammattha Sangaha (Manual of Abhidhamma) offers an introduction to Buddhism's fundamental philosophical psychology. Originally written in the 11th or 12th century, the Sangaha has served as the key to wisdom held in the Abhidhamma. Concisely surveyed are Abhidhamma's central themes, including states of consciousness and mental factors, the functions and processes of the mind, the material world, dependent arising, and the methods and stages of meditation. This presents an exact translation of the Sangaha alongside the original Pali text. A detailed, explanatory guide with more than 40 charts and tables lead readers through the complexities of Adhidhamma. This replaces 9552401038.

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“Bhikkhu Bodhi and the others who have contributed to this truly comprehensive manual of the mind have done a masterful job.” —Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author, Emotional Intelligence

“Bhikkhu Bodhi and the others who have contributed to this truly comprehensive manual of the mind have done a masterful job.” —Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author, Emotional Intelligence

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Pariyatti Publishing
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Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka
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A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma

The Abhidhammattha Sangaha of Acariya Anuruddha

By Bhikkhu Bodhi, Mahathera Narada

Pariyatti Publishing

Copyright © 1999 Buddhist Publication Society
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-928706-02-1


Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa



§1 Words of Praise (thu tivacana)

Sammasambuddham atulam
Abhivadiya bhasissam

Having respectfully saluted the Fully Enlightened One, the Peerless One, along with the Sublime Teaching and the Noble Order, I will speak the Manual of Abhidhamma — a compendium of the things contained in the Abhidhamma.

Guide to §1

Having respectfully saluted (abhivadiya): It is an established practice in the Pali Buddhist tradition for expositors of the Dhamma to begin their expositions with a verse of homage to the Triple Gem — the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha — the ultimate refuge for all who seek the undistorted comprehension of actuality. Thus, following this custom, with deep devotion the author, Acariya Anuruddha, opens his treatise with a verse of praise in which he expresses his veneration for the Triple Gem. A thought of veneration directed towards a worthy object is a wholesome kamma that generates merit in the mental continuum of the person who gives rise to such a thought. When this veneration is directed towards the most worthy objects of homage — the Triple Gem — the merit generated is vast and powerful. Such merit, accumulated in the mind, has the capacity to ward off obstructions to the fulfilment of one's virtuous undertakings and to support their successful completion. Moreover, for a follower of the Buddha the writing of a book on the Dhamma is a valuable opportunity to develop the perfection of wisdom (paññaparami). Therefore, when beginning his work, the author expresses, with blissful words of praise, his joy at gaining such an opportunity.

The Fully Enlightened One (sammasambuddha): The Buddha is called the Fully Enlightened One because he is the one who has fully understood by himself the ultimate nature of all phenomena both in their particular and universal characteristics. The term implies the direct knowledge of all realities gained without help from a teacher. The Buddha is also called the Peerless One (atula) because his qualities and attributes cannot be matched by any other being. Though all Arahants possess the distinguished qualities of morality, concentration, and wisdom sufficient to result in liberation, none possess the innumerable and immeasurable virtues with which a supreme Buddha is fully endowed — the ten Tathagata's powers of knowledge (M.12), the four grounds of self-confidence (M.12), the attainment of great compassion (Ptţs.i,126), and the unobstructed knowledge of omniscience (Pts.i,131). Hence the Buddha is without a peer among all sentient beings. As it is said: "There is one person, bhikkhus, who is unique, without a peer, without counterpart, incomparable, unequalled, matchless, unrivalled, the best of humans — the Tathagata, the Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One" (A.1:13/i,22).

The Sublime Teaching (saddhamma): The Teaching, or Dhamma, signifies the three aspects of study (pariyatti), practice (patipatti), and realization (pativedha). "Study" is the study of the Tipitaka, the scriptures which record the teachings of the Buddha, comprising the three collections of the Vinaya, the Suttas, and the Abhidhamma. "Practice" is the threefold training in virtue, concentration, and wisdom. "Realization" is the penetration of the supramundane paths and attainment of the noble fruits. Each of these is the foundation for the next, since study provides the guidelines to practice and practice brings the breakthrough to realization. The Teaching is called "sublime" in the sense of true and good, because when it is applied in accordance with the Buddha's instructions it definitely leads to the attainment of Nibbana, the supreme truth and highest good.

And the Noble Order (ganuttama): The word gana, meaning company or group, is used here as a synonym of sangha, the community or order. There are two kinds of Sangha: the conventional Sangha (sammutisangha), the order of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, fully ordained monks and nuns; and the Sangha of noble ones (ariyasangha), referred to in the verse of homage as "the Noble Order." The Noble Order is the noble or holy community of the accomplished followers of the Buddha — that is, the four pairs of persons who have arrived at the planes of the noble ones, distinguished as eightfold according to whether they have reached the paths or the fruits of stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, and Arahantship.

I will speak the Manual of Abhidhamma: The title of the work, Abhidhammattha Sangaha, literally means "a compendium of the things contained in the Abhidhamma," that is, in the Buddha's special or "distinguished" (abhi) teaching (dhamma) handed down in the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The author's statement, "I will speak" (bhasissam) reminds us that our text is meant to be recited and learnt by heart so that it will always be available to us as an instrument for analyzing reality.

§2 The Fourfold Ultimate Reality (catudha paramattha)

Tattha vutt'abhidhammattha
Catudha paramatthato
Cittam cetasikam rupam
Nibbanam iti sabbatha.

The things contained in the Abhidhamma, spoken of therein, are altogether fourfold from the standpoint of ultimate reality: consciousness, mental factors, matter, and Nibbana.

Guide to §2

From the standpoint of ultimate reality (paramatthato): According to the Abhidhamma philosophy, there are two kinds of realities — the conventional (sammuti) and the ultimate (paramattha). Conventional realities are the referents of ordinary conceptual thought (paññatti) and conventional modes of expression (vohara). They include such entities as living beings, persons, men, women, animals, and the apparently stable persisting objects that constitute our unanalyzed picture of the world. The Abhidhamma philosophy maintains that these notions do not possess ultimate validity, for the objects which they signify do not exist in their own right as irreducible realities. Their mode of being is conceptual, not actual. They are products of mental construction (parikappana), not realities existing by reason of their own nature.

Ultimate realities, in contrast, are things that exist by reason of their own intrinsic nature (sabhava). These are the dhammas: the final, irreducible components of existence, the ultimate entities which result from a correctly performed analysis of experience. Such existents admit of no further reduction, but are themselves the final terms of analysis, the true constituents of the complex manifold of experience. Hence the word paramattha is applied to them, which is derived from parama = ultimate, highest, final, and attha = reality, thing.

The ultimate realities are characterized not only from the ontological angle as the ultimate existents, but also from the epistemological angle as the ultimate objects of right knowledge. As one extracts oil from sesame seed, so one can extract the ultimate realities from the conventional realities. For example "being," and "man," and "woman" are concepts suggesting that the things they signify possess irreducible ultimate unity. However, when we wisely investigate these things with the analytical tools of the Abhidhamma, we find that they do not possess the ultimacy implied by the concepts, but only a conventional reality as an assemblage of impermanent factors, of mental and physical processes. Thus by examining the conventional realities with wisdom, we eventually arrive at the objective actualities that lie behind our conceptual constructs. It is these objective actualities — the dhammas, which maintain their intrinsic natures independently of the mind's constructive functions — that form the ultimate realities of the Abhidhamma.

Although ultimate realities exist as the concrete essences of things, they are so subtle and profound that an ordinary person who lacks training cannot perceive them. Such a person cannot see the ultimate realities because his mind is obscured by concepts, which shape reality into conventionally defined appearances. Only by means of wise or thorough attention to things (yoniso manasikara) can one see beyond the concepts and take the ultimate realities as one's object of knowledge. Thus paramattha is described as that which belongs to the domain of ultimate or supreme knowledge.

Altogether fourfold: In the Suttas the Buddha usually analyzes a being or individual into five types of ultimate realities, the five aggregates (pañcakkhandha): matter, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. In the Abhidhamma teaching the ultimates are grouped into the four categories enumerated in the text. The first three — consciousness, mental factors, and matter — comprise all conditioned realities. The five aggregates of the Suttanta teaching fit within these three categories. The aggregate of consciousness (viññanakkhandha) is here comprised by consciousness (citta), the word citta generally being employed to refer to different classes of consciousness distinguished by their concomitants. The middle three aggregates are, in the Abhidhamma, all included within the category of mental factors (cetasikas), the mental states that arise along with consciousness performing diverse functions. The Abhidhamma philosophy enumerates fifty-two mental factors: the aggregates of feeling and perception are each counted as one factor; the aggregate of mental formations (sankharakkhandha) of the Suttas is finely subdivided into fifty mental factors. The aggregate of matter is, of course, identical with the Abhidhamma category of matter, which will later be divided into twenty-eight types of material phenomena.

To these three types of reality, which are conditioned, is added a fourth reality, which is unconditioned. That reality, which is not included in the five aggregates, is Nibbana, the state of final deliverance from the suffering inherent in conditioned existence. Thus in the Abhidhamma philosophy there are altogether these four ultimate realities: consciousness, mental factors, matter, and Nibbana.

§3 Four Classes of Consciousness (catubbidha citta)

Tattha cittam tava catubbidham hoti: (i) kamavacaram; (ii) rupa-vacaram; (iii) arupavacaram; (iv) lokuttarañ ca ti.

Of them, consciousness, firstly, is fourfold: (i) sense-sphere consciousness; (ii) fine-material-sphere consciousness; (iii) immaterial-sphere consciousness; (iv) supramundane consciousness.

Guide to §3

Consciousness: The first chapter of the Abhidhammattha Sangaha is devoted to an examination of citta, consciousness or mind, the first of the four ultimate realities. Consciousness is taken up for study first because the focus of the Buddhist analysis of reality is experience, and consciousness is the principal element in experience, that which constitutes the knowing or awareness of an object.

The Pali word citta is derived from the verbal root citi, to cognize, to know. The commentators define citta in three ways: as agent, as instrument, and as activity. As the agent, citta is that which cognizes an object (arammanam cinteti ti cittam). As the instrument, citta is that by means of which the accompanying mental factors cognize the object (etena cintenti ti cittam). As an activity, citta is itself nothing other than the process of cognizing the object (cintanamattam cittam).

The third definition, in terms of sheer activity, is regarded as the most adequate of the three: that is, citta is fundamentally an activity or process of cognizing or knowing an object. It is not an agent or instrument possessing actual being in itself apart from the activity of cognizing. The definitions in terms of agent and instrument are proposed to refute the wrong view of those who hold that a permanent self or ego is the agent and instrument of cognition. The Buddhist thinkers point out, by means of these definitions, that it is not a self that performs the act of cognition, but citta or consciousness. This citta is nothing other than the act of cognizing, and that act is necessarily impermanent, marked by rise and fall.

To elucidate the nature of any ultimate reality, the Pali commentators propose four defining devices by means of which it can be delimited. These four devices are: (1) its characteristic (lakkhana), i.e. the salient quality of the phenomenon; (2) its function (rasa), its performance of a concrete task (kicca) or achievement of a goal sampatti); (3) its manifestation (paccupatthana), the way it presents itself within experience; and (4) its proximate cause (padatthana), the principal condition upon which it depends.

In the case of citta, its characteristic is the knowing of an object (vijanana). Its function is to be a "forerunner" (pubbangama) of the mental factors in that it presides over them and is always accompanied by them. Its manifestation — the way it appears in the meditator's experience — is as a continuity of processes (sandhana). Its proximate cause is mind-and-matter (namarupa), because consciousness cannot arise alone, in the complete absence of mental factors and material phenomena.

While citta has a single characteristic as the cognizing of an object, a characteristic that remains the same in all its diverse manifestations, the Abhidhamma distinguishes citta into a variety of types. These types, also called cittas, are reckoned as 89 or, by a finer method of differentiation, as 121. (See Table 1.1.) What we ordinarily think of as consciousness is really a series of cittas, momentary acts of consciousness, occurring in such rapid succession that we cannot detect the discrete occasions, which are of diverse types. The Abhidhamma not only distinguishes the types of consciousness, but more importantly, it also exhibits them as ordered into a cosmos, a unified and closely interwoven whole.

To do so it employs several overlapping principles of classification. The first of these, introduced in the present section of the Sangaha, is the plane (bhumi) of consciousness. There are four planes of consciousness. Three are mundane: the sense sphere, the fine-material sphere, and the immaterial sphere; the fourth plane is the supramundane. The word avacara, "sphere," which qualifies the first three planes, means "that which moves about in, or frequents, a particular locality." The locality frequented is the plane of existence (also bhumi) designated by the name of the sphere, that is, the sensuous, the fine-material, and the immaterial planes of existence. However, though the three spheres of consciousness have a particularly close connection with the corresponding planes of existence, they are not identical. The spheres of consciousness are categories for classifying types of cittas, the planes of existence are realms or worlds into which beings are reborn and in which they pass their lives.

A definite relation nevertheless exists between the spheres of consciousness and the planes of existence: a particular sphere of consciousness comprises those types of consciousness which are typical of the corresponding plane of existence and which frequent that plane by tending to arise most often there. Consciousness of a particular sphere is not tied to the corresponding plane, but may arise in other planes of existence as well; for instance, fine-material and immaterial-sphere cittas can arise in the sensuous plane, and sense-sphere cittas can arise in the fine-material and immaterial planes. But still a connection is found, in that a sphere of consciousness is typical for the plane that shares its name. Moreover, the kammically active cittas of any particular sphere, the cittas that generate kamma, tend to produce rebirth into the corresponding plane of existence, and if they succeed in gaining the opportunity to generate rebirth, they will do so only in that plane, not in any other plane. Hence the tie between the spheres of consciousness and the corresponding planes of existence is extremely close.


Excerpted from A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Mahathera Narada. Copyright © 1999 Buddhist Publication Society. Excerpted by permission of Pariyatti Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Bhikkhu Bodhi is the general editor and president of the Buddhist Publication Society in Sri Lanka. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Claremont Graduate School and was ordained as a monk in Sri Lanka. He is the author, translator, and editor of several books, including Connected Discourses of the Buddha, Discourse on the All-Embracing Net Views, and Numerical Discourses of the Buddha.

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