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Abhidharma Doctrines and Controversies on Perception (HKU: CBS Publication Series)

  1. Introduction
  2. by U Rewata Dhamma and Bhikkhu Bodhi
  3. Dhammajoti - Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
  4. Abhidharma

This experiment has been authorized by the editors of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The original article and bibliography can be found here. Given the voluminous number of works that discuss consciousness, intentionality, perception, and related topics, the following list is confined to those especially relevant to the present article. The list of primary sources includes translations, mostly into English, French, and German of the works cited or mentioned above.

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Several works listed in the secondary bibliography also include substantive translations from primary sources. Sign in Create an account. Syntax Advanced Search. Successive arising 6. Functional differences between thought and thought-concomitants 6. Functional differences between the first five sensory consciousnesses and mental consciousness 6.

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The question of reflexive knowledge Simultaneous causality in sensory perception 8. Sensory consciousness cannot have a past object 8.

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The object of sensory perception is an assemblage, not a unified complex, of atoms 8. Perception is possible even though the cognitive object is non-existent 9.

by U Rewata Dhamma and Bhikkhu Bodhi

The catechetical style of commentarial exegesis, evident even in the earliest abhidharma texts, becomes more structured and formulaic in texts of the middle period. The final products in this process of abstraction are the truly independent treatises that display marked creativity in technical terminology and doctrinal elaboration. The composition of abhidharma treatises did not end with the canonical collections, but continued with commentaries on previous abhidharma works and with independent summary digests or exegetical manuals.

The first five centuries C. In texts of this period, summary exposition combines with exhaustive doctrinal analysis and polemical debate. The teaching is reorganized in accordance with an abstract and more logical structure, which is then interwoven with the earlier taxonomic lists.

Composed over several centuries from the second century C. Composed in verse with an accompanying prose auto-commentary, these texts function as summary digests of all aspects of the teaching presented according to a logical and nonrepetitive structure.

Dhammajoti - Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia

In contrast to the earlier numerically guided taxonomic lists well-suited as mnemonic aids, these texts adopt a new method of organization, attempting to subsume the prior taxonomic lists and all discussion of specific doctrinal points under general topical sections. They also employ increasingly sophisticated methods of argumentation in order to establish the position of their own school and to refute at length the views of others.

Despite this polemical approach, they nonetheless purport to serve as wellorganized expository treatises or pedagogical digests for the entirety of Buddhist teaching. Abhidharma exegesis evolved over a long period as both the agent and the product of a nascent and then increasingly disparate Buddhist sectarian self-consciousness.

Given the voluminous nature of even the surviving literature that provides a record of this long doctrinal history, any outline of abhidharma method must be content with sketching the most general contours and touching on a few representative examples.

Taxonomic lists were used as a mnemonic device facilitating oral preservation and transmission; catechetical investigation was employed in a teaching environment of oral commentary guided by the pedagogical technique of question and answer. The initially terse catechetical investigation was expanded with discursive exposition and new methods of interpretation and argumentation, which were demanded by an increasingly polemical environment. These developments coincided with a move from oral to written methods of textual transmission and with the challenge presented by other Buddhist and non- Buddhist groups.


In its final stage, abhidharma texts became complex philosophical treatises employing sophisticated methods of argumentation, whose purpose was the analysis and elaboration of doctrinal issues for their own sake. Abstract analysis, which is the guiding principle of abhidharma exegesis, also became the salient characteristic of its doctrinal interpretation.

Buddhist writers

In very simple terms, abhidharma attempts an exhaustive and systematic accounting of every possible type of experience in terms of its ultimate constituents. Abhidharma views experience with a critical analytical eye, breaking down the gross objects of ordinary perception into their constituent factors or dharmas and clarifying the causal interaction among these discrete factors. This analysis was not, however, motivated by simple abstract interest, but rather by a soteriological purpose at the very core of Buddhist religious praxis. Analysis determines the requisite factors of which each event consists, distinguishing those factors that lead to suffering and rebirth from those that contribute to their termination.

This very process of analysis was identified with the insight that functions in religious praxis to cut off ensnaring factors and to cultivate those leading to liberation. Abhidharma analysis focused on refining these lists of factors and on investigating the problems that arise in using them to explain experience.