Abhidhamma the third collection of Buddhist texts
There are three (ti/tri) baskets (piṭaka) or collections of Buddhist texts (Tipiṭaka, Skt: Tripiṭaka): Sutta (Skt: Sūtra, Discourses), Vinaya (Discipline) and Abhidhamma (Skt: Abhidharma, Philosophy). These are the reasons I don’t accept the Abhidhamma as an original Buddhist text, though it may contain important ideas extracted from Sutta (Skt: Sūtra, Discourses) and Vinaya (Discipline).
- The Sutta and Vinaya collections in both major traditions of Buddhism (Theravāda and Mahāyāna) are around 95% identical in wording. The Abhidhamma is not identical in wording apart from the use of some similar terms. It is only somewhat similar in approach and topic. This shows that it developed independently in both traditions, after the separation of the traditions around 200 years after the Buddha’s passing away.
- The First Buddhist Council (within one year of the Buddha’s passing) and Second Buddhist Council (within 200 years of the Buddha’s passing) do not mention the Abhidhamma at all. This is consistent with the previous point.
- The science of language (Linguistics) shows that the language of the first four collections (Nikāya) of the Sutta Piṭaka (Dīgha-nikāya, Majjhima-nikāya, Saṅyutta-nikāya, Aṅguttara-nikāya) are generally of the same early historical period, but the language of the Abhidhamma (and most books of the fifth nikāya of the Sutta Piṭaka, the Khuddaka-nikāya) are from a later (commentarial) period. This is consistent with the above.
- The book of Abhidhamma called Kathāvatthu says clearly that it was written by the president, Moggallaputtatissa Thera, of the Third Buddhist Council (about 350 years after the Buddha’s passing). Therefore it is clearly not the words of the Buddha. He also was the first person to use the term “Tipiṭaka”.
- The Abhidhamma is used by scholars to argue the worth or superiority of the Buddha’s teaching over others’, e.g. as a competition for conversion. The Buddha did not argue in such general terms, but argued about specific doctrines/views/behaviours to show they were helpful or not in ending suffering in this very life and he recognised that others also taught good things. E.g. “Now I give this Dhamma, Nigrodha, not wishing to win pupils, not wishing to make you fall from your religious studies, not wishing to make you give up your lifestyle, not to establish you in things accepted by you and your teacher as evil and unwholesome, nor to make you give up things regarded by you and your teacher as good and wholesome. NOT SO. But Nigrodha, there are evil and unwholesome things not put away, things that have to do with defilements, conducive to re-becoming, harassing, productive of painful results, conducive to birth, aging and death in the future. It is for the rejection of these things that I teach this Dhamma. If one lives according to this Dhamma, things concerned with defilements shall be put away and wholesome things that make for purity shall be brought to increase and one may attain, here and now, the realization of full and abounding insight.” D 25: D iii 56. Dhamma does not belong to anyone, not the Buddhists, not the Buddha. Anyone can realise Dhamma, if they know how. We should only try to help others give up harmful thought, word and deed. It doesn’t matter what religious label they give themselves.
- The tradition says the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma to his mother in heaven after she had passed away and been reborn there. This is superstition and based on the theory of soul, that is, that consciousness moves from life to life.
- If the Abhidhamma was taught to gods in heaven, then it was designed for gods, not human beings. Do those who study it think they are equal to gods in morality, meditation and intellect?
Since it is not the Word of the Buddha, putting more emphasis on it is dangerous. Buddha taught that he taught all that was necessary (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.031.than.html) and warned against putting disciples’ words above his, in Aṇi Sutta (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn20/sn20.007.than.html and other places). We should study the Suttas to understand Dhamma and we should know the method the Buddha gave to study them:
“… All you to whom I have taught these truths that I have realised by super-knowledge should come together and recite them, setting meaning beside meaning and expression beside expression, without dissension, in order that this holy life may continue and be established for a long time for the profit and happiness of the many…” (D 29: D iii 127).
People, even monks usually do not follow any of this advice, or at least not all of it, especially the last one. After I declared that I did not accept Abhidhamma as an original Buddhist text, a traditional monk said “you have wrong view, you can’t understand Dhamma without Abhidhamma” and he asked me “how does consciousness arise” and I told him “dependent on the sense organ and the sense object, consciousness arises, for example, with eye as sense organ and a visual object, seeing arises”. He said “that is correct, how did you know that”. I said “It is taught in many, many suttas”. He asked “which suttas”. I told him “Ven. I cannot remember right now, but if you give me your email address I can send some references later.” He said “ok” but didn’t give me his email address. This shows that the traditional monks often do not know the suttas and they put them second to later works by scholars, which is opposite to the warning the Buddha gave. They study Abhidhamma and don’t realise that the best things of Abhidhamma are from the suttas.
Vinaya indicates that is part of Sutta, e.g. the end of the Pāṭimokkha says it comes from the sutta-vibhaṅga. So it would seem originally there was only Sutta, which contained Dhamma and Vinaya. This is confirmed by Buddhaghosa in his commentary to the First Council, where he says Vinaya was included in the Khuddaka-nikāya –the fifth nikāya- and was recited by Ven. Upāli. The Mahāyāna includes all later texts in the fifth nikāya, including commentaries.
I think the Abhidhamma and other later texts can be useful in finding evidence to show the development of Theravāda Philosophy (History of Buddhism), but such studies are not directly related to Dhamma and are not necessary for the ending of suffering in this very life.