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Abhidhamma is a particular approach to the Dhamma which began to develop during the Buddha's time and reached its final form some two or three centuries after his passing. The word abhidhamma means `pertaining to dhammas.' Abhidhamma developed when early Buddhist thinkers tried to analyse phenomena into their most basic units which they called dhammas and then attempted to describe their characteristics, their duration, their interaction with one another and their kammic results. Whereas the Buddha generally restricted himself to empirical experience, abhidhamma tends to be more speculative.


阿毘達磨 (Skt; Pali Abhidhamma; Jpn abidatsuma )


Doctrinal treatise and commentary. One of the three divisions of the Buddhist Canon, the other two being sutras and Vinaya (rules of monastic discipline). Dharma means the Law or The Buddha's teachings, and abhi literally means to, toward, or upon. Abhidharma means "upon the Law" and refers to commentaries on the Law, that is, doctrinal studies of The Buddha's teachings' or the sutras. Between the fourth and the first centuries B.C.E., schisms arose repeatedly within the Buddhist Order, resulting in the formation of twenty schools. Many of those schools worked out their own doctrinal systematization of the sutras, and these were included in the Abhidharma.The Sarvastivada school, the most influential of the Hinayana schools, produced a number of Abhidharma works. Among these,

The Treatise on the Source of Wisdom, written by Katyayaniputra in the second century B.C.E., contributed greatly to the development of Sarvastivada Thought and formed the basis for further studies. Some two hundred years later, a voluminous commentary on The Treatise on the Source of Wisdom called The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma was completed. the Dharma Analysis Treasury, by Vasubandhu (fourth or fifth century), is often regarded as the pinnacle of Abhidharma literature because it explains the contents of the above two works, reexamines traditional Sarvastivada doctrines, and cites the studies of a number of other schools; it is therefore an invaluable reference for the study of the Abhidharma in general. Very few Sanskrit Abhidharma manuscripts are extant; most are known through their Chinese translations. The present Theravada school of Southern Buddhism has a collection of seven Pali works that comprise the abhi Dharma of this school.

Abhidharma school

毘曇宗 (Skt; Chin P’i-t’an-tsung; Jpn Bidon-shu)

Also known as the P'i-t'an school. One of the so-called thirteen schools of Chinese Buddhism, the Abhidharma school prospered in northern China during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (439-589). It based its teachings on Abhidharma works such as Dharmashri's Heart of the Abhidharma and Dharmatrata's Supplement to "The Heart of the Abhidharma." Hence the name of the Abhidharma school.

P'i-t'an is the Chinese transliteration of Abhidharma. The Sanskrit term Abhidharma means doctrinal commentary, one of the three divisions of the Buddhist Canon, the other two being sutras and Vinaya (rules of monastic discipline). The twenty Hinayana schools in India, particularly the Sarvastivada, produced Abhidharma works. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties period in China, they were regarded as essential references on Buddhist Doctrine. Later in the seventh century, when Hsüan-tsang translated the Dharma Analysis Treasury, The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma, and other Abhidharma works into Chinese, the Dharma Analysis Treasury (Chy-she) school absorbed the rapidly declining Abhidharma school.

Dharma Analysis Treasury, The

阿毘達磨倶舎論 (Skt Abhidharma-kosha-bhashya or Abhidharmakosha-shastra; Chin A-p’i-ta-mo-chy-she-lun; Jpn Abidatsuma-kusha-ron )


Also known as Abhidharmakosha. An exhaustive study of the Sarvastivada Abhidharma, written by Vasubandhu (fourth or fifth century) and translated into Chinese in 651 by Hsüan-tsang. A Sanskrit manuscript is extant. There is another Chinese translation, done by Paramartha in 564, as well as a Tibetan translation. As a systematic explanation of Buddhist ideas and concepts, the Dharma Analysis Treasury includes a comprehensive discussion of Buddhist themes organized in nine chapters:

(1) "Elements" (or dharmas),
(2) "Sense Organs,"
(3) "Realms,"
(4) "Actions,"
(5) "Earthly Desires,"
(6) "Stages of Worthies and Sages,"
(7) "Wisdom,"
(8) "Meditation," and
(9) "Refutation of the Idea of the Self."

The first two chapters are a categorization of the dharmas, or elements of existence, and their functions.
The third through the fifth chapter elaborate on the realms of Delusion. Among these, the third chapter describes the Buddhist view of the Universe, including the concept of transmigration within the realms of Delusion.

The fourth chapter outlines the actions that cause one to fall into the realms of Delusion.

The fifth chapter explains that earthly desires and illusions produce actions that in turn bring about Suffering in the realms of Delusion. Here, earthly desires are divided into two categories: fundamental and derivative. The following three chapters, from the sixth to the eighth, clarify the way to Enlightenment.

The sixth chapter explains the stages through which voice-hearers advance toward the level of Arhat.

The seventh chapter deals with the Wisdom that leads one to Enlightenment.

Two kinds of Wisdom are defined:

Wisdom that continues to be bound by earthly desires and Wisdom that is free from earthly desires.

The eighth chapter discusses the practice of Meditation that brings forth Wisdom that is untainted by earthly desires.

The ninth and last chapter discusses the Doctrine of nonself, refuting the idea of the self.This work is primarily a critical analysis of The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma, the principal text of the Sarvastivada school, one of the major early Indian schools of Buddhism. In the Dharma Analysis Treasury, Vasubandhu, originally a Sarvastivadin, reexamined traditional Sarvastivada teachings from a broader standpoint, drawing on the interpretations of several schools, most notably those of the Sautrantikas. In response, Samghabhadra wrote The Treatise on Accordance with the Correct Doctrine to refute the ideas of the Dharma Analysis Treasury and exalt the traditional Sarvastivada Doctrine.

the Dharma Analysis Treasury itself contains an excellent and thorough exposition on Sarvastivada Doctrine and forms a unified doctrinal system, and has been regarded as a textbook of the Sarvastivada school. A pinnacle of doctrinal study, the Dharma Analysis Treasury greatly influenced people's understanding of Buddhism in later ages and was studied widely in India, China, and Japan. Consequently, a number of commentaries on it were produced, and the Dharma Analysis Treasury (Chin Chy-she; Jpn Kusha) school was founded in China based on this work. The school was brought to Japan and became known as one of the six schools of Nara.

Great Commentary on the Abhidharma, The

阿毘達磨大毘婆沙論 (Skt Abhidharma-mahavibhasha-shastra; Chin A-p’i-ta-mo-ta-p’i-p’o-sha-lun; Jpn Abidatsuma-daibibasha-ron )

An exhaustive commentary on the Hinayana doctrines. This work was compiled in Kashmir in the former half of the second century. According to tradition, the compilation was carried out by five hundred Arhats under the guidance of Parshva and the support of King Kanishka at the time of the Fourth Buddhist Council; the compilation took twelve years. This two-hundred-volume work is a commentary on Katyayaniputra's Treatise on the Source of Wisdom, the basic doctrinal text of the Sarvastivada school, and was translated into Chinese by Hsüan-tsang in the mid-seventh century.

There is another Chinese translation, which is the sixty-volume Commentary on the Abhidharma, made by Buddhavarman and Tao-t'ai of the Northern Liang dynasty (397-439). This work corresponds to the first half of The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma. The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma sets forth the Doctrine of the conservative Sarvastivada school of Kashmir and refutes the positions of the more progressive Gandhara Sarvastivada school, the Mahasamghika school, the non-Buddhist Samkhya school, and other non-Buddhist schools. It serves as a record of the doctrinal development of the Sarvastivada school from the time of the Writing of The Treatise on the Source of Wisdom. This work systematized the Sarvastivada Doctrine; however, because it was so voluminous, it later prompted the compilation of a condensed version, The Heart of the Abhidharma.

Heart of the Abhidharma, The

阿毘曇心論 (Skt Abhidharma-hridaya-shastra; Chin A-p’i-t’an-hsin-lun; Jpn Abidon-shin-ron )


A 250-verse compendium of the Abhidharma Doctrine of the Sarvastivada school, written in the third century by Dharmashri (also known as Dharmashreshthin) and translated into Chinese in 384 by Samghadeva. Dharmashri, a scholar of the Sarvastivada school, was from the Tukhara kingdom. The Heart of the Abhidharma is an abridgment of the doctrinal teachings contained in the massive Great Commentary on the Abhidharma, one of the basic texts of the Sarvastivadins. The Sarvastivada school first compiled The Treatise on the Source of Wisdom and six other doctrinal texts to clarify its fundamental tenets, and later produced The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma as a comprehensive survey and compilation of studies concerning its Doctrine. The production of The Heart of the Abhidharma followed.