Glimpses of Abhidharma

Glimpses of Abhidharma

by Chogyam Trungpa

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is a collection of Buddhist scriptures that investigate the workings of the mind and the states of human consciousness. In this book, Chögyam Trungpa shows how an examination of the formation of the ego provides us with an opportunity to develop real intelligence. Trungpa also presents the practice of meditation as the means that


is a collection of Buddhist scriptures that investigate the workings of the mind and the states of human consciousness. In this book, Chögyam Trungpa shows how an examination of the formation of the ego provides us with an opportunity to develop real intelligence. Trungpa also presents the practice of meditation as the means that enables us to see our psychological situation clearly and directly.

Editorial Reviews

In Glimpses Of Abhidharma, Buddhist mediation master and scholar Chogyam Trungpa discusses the development of ego as it is explained in the "Abhidharma", a collection of Buddhist scriptures which investigates the workings of the mind and the states of human consciousness. A provocative interpretation of ego and psychology, Glimpses Of Abhidharma reveals the practice of mediation within the Buddhist tradition to be an effective means of enabling us to see our psychological situation clearly and directly. Glimpses Of Abhidharma is an imposing and highly recommended addition to Buddhist scholarship.

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Abhidharma is perhaps regarded as dry and scholarly, theoretical. We will see.
In any case I would like to welcome those of you who are brave and willing to go into it. To a certain extent you are warriors.

have decided to present the abhidharma because I feel it is necessary in studying the Buddhist tradition to start from scratch, to begin at the beginning and present the pure, immaculate, genuine teaching. We have been doing that so far in terms of the practice of meditation and in terms of the theoretical understanding of the teaching as well. I feel it is important that the teachings be presented that way. The presentation of Eastern teachings in the West has been particularly haphazard. The teachers have something to say and they say it, but perhaps it does not reach the audience effectively, in such a way as to create the right situation for practice. These teachers have been trained and have practiced and received transmission in their own countries, but that was a different cultural situation in which a certain environment of discipline was taken for granted. They seem to presume that the same cultural background also exists in the West. But perhaps that is not the case. So for us in the West to get into a spiritual teaching, we have to get into the basic core of it. We have to build a really good foundation before we get into practices such as the yoga of inner heat or start levitating or whatever.

In getting back to the basic principles, there could be two approaches. Some people feel inclined to work purely on the intuitive or emotional level; others feel that approach is not fundamental enough and want to work on the scholarly or theoretical aspect. I would not say that these two ways conflict, but rather that they are two channels through which to approach the subject. What we are trying to do here is to neglect neither the intellect nor the intuition, but to combine the two together. A real understanding of the teachings must be an intelligent one and a human one at the same time. The intelligent aspect is the theory; the human side is the intuitive, personal feeling of the teaching and the learning process involved in it. One might say that the study of the abhidharma is a theoretical one in some sense; but it also has the quality of personality, individuality, because the abhidharma is a survey of the psychology of the human mind. It is part of the basic philosophy of Buddhism,
common to all schools—the Theravadins, the Tibetans and so on.

The abhidharma is part of what is called the
the "three baskets" or "three heaps." These are the three bodies of teaching that constitute the Buddhist scriptures. The first is called the
which is concerned with discipline, the practicalities of how to live one's life in the world and understand it at the same time. The
is presented in such a way that there is no conflict between understanding and practical discipline. The second "basket" is the
which deals with certain meditative practices and various ways of training the mind, ways of accepting and using both intellect and intuition as supports of meditation. The third is the
Having seen the practical aspect of how you relate to the world and also the meditative, psychological aspect, we now begin to work on the background of the whole thing. This is almost, one might say, preparation to teach. The abhidharma in a sense tells us how, having understood everything, to communicate with others.

Many modern psychologists have found that the discoveries and explanations of the abhidharma coincide with their own recent discoveries and new ideas; as though the abhidharma, which was taught 2,500 years ago, had been redeveloped in the modern idiom.

The abhidharma deals with the five skandhas. The skandhas represent the constant structure of human psychology as well as its pattern of evolution and the pattern of evolution of the world. The skandhas are also related to blockages of different types—spiritual ones, material ones, emotional ones. An understanding of the five skandhas shows that once we are tuned into the basic core of egohood, then anything—any experience, any inspiration—can be made into a further blockage or can become a way of freeing ourselves. Abhidharma is a very precise way of looking at mind. Any tendency of mind, even the subtlest suggestion of a tendency can be viewed with great precision—even something as slight as the irritation from having a fly perched on one's leg. That irritation, for example, might be classified as a friendly one which merely tends to frighten the fly away or an aggressive one which moves to kill it.

The abhidharma deals very precisely and impartially with our particular type of mind and it is tremendously helpful for us to see our mind that way. This does not mean being purely scholarly and intellectual. We can relate to little irritations like the one of the fly as just the sort of happening that makes up the human situation. We do not particularly make a big deal about it, but we see it precisely. This eventually becomes very helpful. It is helpful not only for pure meditation but also meditation in action. The whole approach of
Buddhism is oriented towards dealing with everyday life situations rather than just meditating in order to attain enlightenment. Throughout the three
there is very little emphasis on enlightenment. The
are handbooks of how to live in terms of the awakened state of mind, but very much on the kitchen-sink level. They are concerned with how to step out of our usual sleepwalking and deal really with actual situations. The abhidharma is a very important part of that general instruction.

Our particular study here of the abhidharma, because of limitations of time and space and the patience of the audience, has to be something of a rough survey.
Nevertheless, as a basic introduction, I think it will be extremely useful.

didn't really understand the difference between the
and the

gives the techniques of meditation while the abhidharma describes the accomplished experience of meditation so that you can relate with other people about it, as well as yourself. Rather than being a cookbook, it presumes that you are familiar with certain ideas and experiences and proceeds to formulate them with great precision. That is why recent translators have run into difficulty with
Buddhist texts—they have not had experience of what is being talked about.
That is what is lacking in a lot of the translations.

What does

Tibetan for
cho ngonpa
Sanskrit, the law or "isness" of things.
refers to something visible or apparent, something available visually. It means,
almost, something which is predictable, something you can interpret or see the pattern of. So you could say
means the "pattern of the dharma." Here "dharma" could be the dharma of cooking, the dharma of driving a motorcar, any kind of dharma—not dharma with a capital "d" particularly. It is the intimate, homey quality of the dharma which is very vividly presented in the abhidharma.

heard that in certain Buddhist countries that stress the study of the abhidharma the practice of meditation fell away. Is there a kind of danger in the
that if one uses them in the wrong way to relate to kitchen-sink problems, it might lead one to think one could do without meditation?

think that is highly possible, definitely. That is a problem that has come up;
and in fact it is a main cause of the degeneration of the buddhadharma in the whole Buddhist world. I have heard that an outstanding scholar from Ceylon has said that no one has attained enlightenment in the last 500 years, but that nevertheless it is our duty to keep all the theories alive so that maybe one day somebody will click. Actually, it is a basic idea among Buddhist scholars who emphasize mainly the scholarly side of the teaching that it is dangerous to begin meditating before you have mastered the theory. Then, once you have discovered everything intellectually, how to do it, what the idea is behind it,
once you have gone through all the psychological images intellectually, then you do not really have to meditate because you know it all already. That approach goes along with the idea of Buddha as superscholar. Since the idea of awakened mind or enlightenment exists in the tradition, these scholars must have some view of it. They have no way of interpreting it other than as knowing everything. They think that if someone has ten or twelve Ph.D.'s, he will probably attain enlightenment because he has all the answers. Then someone with one Ph.D. should have attained partial enlightenment, but as we know this does not happen at all. So being a superscholar is not the answer.

The contemplative traditions of Buddhism, such as the Tibetan and Zen traditions,
emphasize practice very strongly and see study as something that should go side by side with it. Here the idea of learning is that it is a process of new discovery, new scientific discovery, which is actual experience. There is a tremendous difference between putting something under a microscope, actually seeing it with your own eyes, and just purely analyzing the topic. Anything can be analyzed, but if you have no experience of it there is no basis for analysis. So the idea in the contemplative tradition is that one should have some basic training in meditation practice, however primitive it may be, and then begin to work on the intellectual aspect. This way the teaching is treated as a confirmation of experience rather than purely as a bank of information.

Could you explain this tendency in us to be satisfied with theory instead of being freer and more open in terms of actual experience?

suppose the main tendency might be the tendency to make secure what we are doing. You see, on the whole practice is a sloppy job. You have to accept that you have been a fool and start with being foolish. For instance, in the beginning deciding to try the practice of meditation is just leaping to some conclusion about what to do. And even in doing the practice at the beginning,
rather than really meditating you just imagine you are meditating. So to begin with, the whole thing is based on confusion and confusion is accepted as part of the path. And since the situation is very loose and unorganized, it is as though you are leaping into unknown territory. A lot of people find that very frightening. You are not quite sure what you are involved with. But that is the only way to get into the practice. Being a fool then becomes a steppingstone.
The foolishness wears itself out and the thing behind the foolishness begins to peep through. It is like wearing out a shoe—your genuine feet begin to appear from behind your shoe.

You see there is a tremendous amount of fear involved and so a certain amount of security is needed. This particular answer does not answer all your questions of security. It does not really promise anything, it just pushes you overboard.
It points out the situation of needing security and being frightened of that situation. Once we step out of that concern for security and are willing to be raw and rugged, personal, as we are, somehow a certain relaxation takes place.
We discover that the more we let go the more comes back to us, rather than that we lose our grip on anything. Then a real relationship to your situation begins to develop.

The great problem is that spiritual teachings have been used as a way of securing ourselves, gaining a higher level of stability in terms of ego. This is our inevitable starting point. We cannot ignore this or push it away. We must start with the mistakes and that is always a problem. There is the fear and need for security that makes acceptance of spontaneity extremely difficult. As it says in the
"He who knows he's a fool is a wise man indeed."

Meet the Author

Chögyam Trungpa (1940–1987)—meditation master, teacher, and artist—founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, the first Buddhist-inspired university in North America; the Shambhala Training program; and an international association of meditation centers known as Shambhala International. He is the author of numerous books including Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and The Myth of Freedom.

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