01: Abhidharma Studies

Sat., Aug. 23rd, 09:00-15:00

The Saccasaṅkhepa and its Commentaries

Cousins, L.S. (Wolfson College, Oxford, GBR)

The Saccasaṅkhepa (Sacc) is a verse manual of the Pali abhidhamma tradition of uncertain date, but in any case earlier than the twelfth century A.D. Since at least the thirteenth century its authorship has been variously attributed to Dhammapāla and Ānanda. The date and authorship of both Sacc and its two extant commentaries are discussed and its place in the history of Theriya abhidhamma literature explored.


The Sarvāstivāda Doctrine of the abhisamaya

Dhammapala, Bhikkhu (Malaysian Buddhist Academy, Hong Kong, HKG)

In the Sarvāstivāda schema of the path of spiritual cultivation, arguably the most critical stage is that featuring the direct-comprehension (abhisamaya) into the four Noble Truths, known as the ‘Path of Seeing’ (darśana-mārga). The initiation of this insight marks a definite qualitative transition of the practitioner, whose spiritual grade (‘lineage’ - gotra) transforms instantly into that of an ārya, never again to descend into the realm of the ordinary worldling. In this stage cognitive views (dṛṣṭi), doubts and all but the most tenacious and subtle of defilements are eradicated completely and absolutely in a process which lasts only 15 moments, and which is both inevitable and irreversible from the very last moment of the Worldly path, the laukika-agra-dharma. By the 16th moment, the ārya has entered into the Supramundane Path of Cultivation, wherein the gradual abandonment of the residual, obstinate defilements not completely abandoned in the Path of Seeing constitutes the final task before ascension into arhat-hood - the final destination of spiritual ascension.

While the notion and key significance of abhisamaya was a common doctrine in sectarian Buddhism, its articulation, in particular its objects or the constituent moments of the Path of seeing were subject to considerable variation amongst the abhidharmic schools. The Sarvāstivāda teachings of abhisamaya also opposed many contemporary traditions through the advocacy of its characteristic doctrinal position of ‘gradual,’ sequential direct-comprehension. Amongst the growing body of modern research focusing on abhisamaya there has been extremely little attention given to the Sarvāstivādin articulation of the ‘gradual’ nature of direct-comprehension into the four Truths, and in particular its central theoretical foundation – the ‘three types’ of abhisamaya. In this essay, these issues will be examined in two parts: Firstly, based on quotations from the Mahāvibhāṣa-śāstra (MVS), Nyānānusāra, the Vyākhyā and Chinese commentaries, a preliminary discussion of the Sarvāstivāda articulation and defense of the three types of abhisamaya shall be presented, with emphasis placed on the functioning of the third abhisamaya – ‘abhisamaya as enterprise’ (kārya-abhisamaya) – as a key counteragent to the doctrine of ‘abrupt’ or immediate direct-comprehension. Secondly, an overview shall be presented, based mainly on the MVS and Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, of the additional miscellaneous arguments and rationales forwarded by Vaibhāṣika scholars that refute the doctrine of ‘abrupt’ direct-comprehension.


Some Critical Remarks on Robinson and Hayes’ Criticism of Nāgārjuna’s Treatment of the Abhidharma Concept of svabhāva

Kardas, Goran (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences University of Zagreb, Zagreb, HRV)

Buddhist scholars R. H. Robinson and R. P. Hayes have expressed certain objections regarding Nāgārjuna's reasoning procedure and the manner in which he treats his opponent's (Ābhidharmika’s) basic concept of svabhāva. Thus, Robinson asserts that the validity of Nāgārjuna's refutations depends upon whether his opponents really upheld the existence of a svabhāva as he defines or understands the term. His answer is negative: Nāgārjuna's “trick”, according to him, “consists of reading into the opponent's views a few terms [e.g. svabhāva] which one defines for him in a self-contradictory way”. Similarly, Hayes believes that Nāgārjuna and his followers constantly misrepresent their opponent’s positions, thus refuting the “man of straw”. Moreover, Hayes believes that he has found a systematic error in Nāgārjuna’s reasoning (refuting) procedure through which his key arguments only appear to function. Specifically, Nāgārjuna’s reasoning is corrupted by the (informal) fallacy of equivocation upon the term “intrinsic nature” (svabhāva) that consists of his intentional playing upon two meanings of svabhāva, those of identity and causal independence which are in no way interconnected in the sense that one presupposes the other. Only by playing with these two meanings is Nāgārjuna able to expose the absurdity of the notion of svabhāva. Furthermore, this means that Nāgārjuna uses the term “svabhāva” differently than the followers of the Abhidharma tradition, to whom Hayes claims the term meant only the nature (bhāva) belonging to a thing itself (svasya), referring thus to the identity of a thing.

My presentation will attempt to use textual evidence to show that Nāgārjuna, contrary to opinion of these scholars, did not actually read unacceptable meaning(s) of svabhāva into his opponent's (Ābhidharmika’s) views. It will also attempt to show that he did not commit the fallacy of equivocation through the simple fact that Ābhidharmikas (Vaibhāṣikas) actually defined svabhāva in terms of identity and causal independence, as is evident from the *Abhidharma-Mahāvibhāṣa-śāstra, a text that was most likely circulating in Nāgārjuna’s time. Nāgārjuna and Ābhidharmikas (Vaibhāṣikas) held exactly the same initial understanding of the concept of svabhāva, however, it led them to draw completely opposite (doctrinal) conclusions. Hence, Nāgārjuna can also not be accused of construing his opponent’s view differently from the way it was intended (the fallacy of vākchala).


Two Different Names: Abhidharma and Abhidhamma

Kim, Kyungrae (King's College London, University of London, London, GBR)

Sanskrit and Pāli traditions established differing doctrinal interpretations of the Buddha’s teaching: Abhidharma and Abhidhamma. These scholastic traditions share external similarities: 7 fundamental treatises, etymological terms, analytical disposition etc. Hermeneutical differences, however, are found in them. It is the case even in the definitions of the compound terms, abhi-dharma and abhi-dhamma, which reveals that they developed within a heterogeneous context.

According to the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya and Nyāyānusāraśāstra, two aspects of the term abhi-dharma, ultimate and secular, should be analyzed. The ultimate (pāramārthika abhidharma) consists of ‘pure wisdom (prajñā-amala)’ and ‘its followers (anucara).’ On the other hand, ‘defiled wisdom (sāsravā prajñā),’ ‘its followers (anucara),’ and ‘seven treatises (śāstra)’ are within the secular (sāṃketika abhidharma).

The compound abhi-dhamma, on the other hand, is interpreted as ‘supreme teaching.’ This teaching is designated as the Seven Books (satta pakaraṇāni) transmitted by the Mahāvihāra fraternity in Laṅkā. It is quite different from the case of abhi-dharma in which treatises are just expedients for pure wisdom (saṃbhāra).

The tradition of Abhidhamma as a supreme teaching originated from the distinctive context of Laṅkā. Whether historical fact or not, the Pāli chronicles and commentaries tried to describe Laṅkā Theravāda as being divided into monastery schisms. According to them, 2-3 leading fraternities built quite different doctrinal systems until the 12th century CE. Mahāvihāra, one of the monasteries, authored its own Abhidhamma Books, and projected its religious identity into the writings.

The abhi-dhamma definition as ‘supreme teaching’ eventually assumed the designation “Mahāvihāra’s supremacy” for it was this fraternity which handed down the very Seven Books.


Śrīlāta's Theory of the Atom

Lee, Gilsan (Department of Philosophy, Seoul National University, Seoul, KOR)

Nowadays the identity and origin of the Sautrāntika school is under contention. However, this school itself left no writings on their own doctrinal positions. Saṅghabhadra(衆賢)’s Nyāyānusāraśāstra (順正理論) provides important evidence to investigate the character and doctrines of the early Sautrāntika. The author, an orthodox Sarvāstivādin, mentions Sautrāntika and especially Sthavira Śrīlāta, along with Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya for the purpose of opposing them. However, Śrīlāta’s whole theoretical position has not been clearly elucidated until now. I will examine the atomist theory of Sthavira Śrīlāta, which I believe to be a critical clue for understanding his thought. He presents an atomist argument of rejecting the cognitive faculties and their corresponding objects (處, āyatana) as being provisionally existing (假有, prajñaptisat) using the famous metaphor of the blind. However, he does not clarify his theoretical position about the existence and nature of the atom (極微, paramāṇu) in here, while refusing to accept the atom’s nature of partlessness (無方分, niravayava). This poses a paradox because of his advocacy of a ‘partite atom.’

Here we are reminded of one of the famous debates in Indian Buddhist philosophical discussions around the atom since its introduction in the Mahāvibhāṣā Śāstra (大毘婆沙論) until Dignāga’s practically final refutation of external realism. So I will refer to related passages to reconstruct Śrīlāta’s theory of the atom.

On the other hand he claims that the five sensuous cognitions (五識) take conventional things (世俗, saṃvṛti) as their objects because of their being non-discriminative (無分別, nirvikalpa), which seems very strange for other Buddhist schools. By examining his positive conception of vikalpa, I will try to bridge his theory of the atom and his soteriological position, which I believe will show the important role the atom plays in his theoretical scheme.


What is a Whole According to Abhidharmic Philosophers: A Pure Accumulation of Atoms or Something Different from it ?

Lysenko, Victoria (Institute of Philosophy, Moscow, RUS)

In this paper, I argue that there are two ways of explaining the relationship between the atoms and the gross things formed by them (or between parts and whole) suggested in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya:

According to the first one, the properties of materiality, ability to contact (entering into combinations) and perceptibility are contained not only in gross things, but in atoms (paramāṇu) as well; however, they are perceptible only in things, not in atoms. This is the model of the Vaibhāṣika School. I call it accumulativist. In accordance with this model, due to the increased number of atoms, i.e. their accumulation up to some critical mass, they become manifested to the point of becoming perceptible. The smallest atomic aggregate is a dust particle in a ray of light. As per some late Buddhist calculations, it contains 1.379 atoms.

According to the second explanation, the atoms have the mentioned properties only in agglomerations (saṃghāta), not individually. In this way, these properties are a kind of systemic impact, i.e. they are emergent. Therefore I call this model the emergent one. Apparently, it belongs to the Abhidharmic School of Sautrāntika. This is not such an obvious case of emergence as in the Vaiśeṣika Atomism wherein atoms are absolutely lacking those properties (“grossness”, “perceived size”, etc.) which are characteristic of the things they compose. Nevertheless, what matters for me is the fact that Abhidharmikas raised a problem of certain system properties in relation to atoms although they did not designate those properties by special terms.


The Sautrāntika Notion of Ālambana and its Dārṣṭāntika Precursor

Park, Changhwan (Geumgang Univ., Nonsan, KOR)

As Mimaki (1975) has observed long ago, the Sautrāntika tradition has been one of the most enigmatic systems of thought in Indian Buddhism in that although it is counted by later doxographical traditions, Indian or Tibetan, as one of the four major philosophical schools in Indian Buddhism, no single text ascribed to this particular school has survived to this day except some fragmented citations found in Vasubandhu’s AKBh. More enigmatic is the modern scholarly practice to try to identify “Sautrāntika” elements in what they call the “Sautrāntika-Yogācāra school” represented by such Buddhist logicians as Dignāga and Dharmakīrti. It is enigmatic because there is no explicit reference to the designation “Sautrāntika” in the texts ascribed to these thinkers per se. That is to say, they never explicitly identified their sectarian affiliation or identity.

For these scholars, the Sautrāntika represents phenomenalistic realism as opposed to Yogācāra’s idealism. The typical description of the Sautrāntika epistemological position is that the Sautrāntika assumes the existence of an external object outside the mind, even though the images (ākāra) that appear to our cognition may not be the way actual objects or atoms exist. This is a position that John Dunne (2004) calls “Sautrāntika externalism”. Despite the wide acceptance of this standard view of the Sautrāntika as a realist, actual texts sometimes tell different stories that the Sautrāntika may not have been a realist to begin with.

In the chapter on perception (pratyakṣapariccheda k. 194-230) of his Pramāṇavārttika, Dharmakīrti deals with an issue of Abhidharma epistemological proposition: “Five kinds of consciousnesses have congregated [atoms] as their objects (sañcitālambanāḥ pañca vijñānakāyāḥ).” Tosaki Hiromasa (1978) attributes Dharmakīrti's view on this issue to the Sautrāntika on the basis of its similarity to the position ascribed to the Sautrāntika in K'uei-chi's commentary (二十唯識論述記) on the Viṃśatikā of Vasubandhu. Despite Tosaki's claim, however, Dharmakīrti's realist understanding of a sense-object shows a marked difference from K’uei-chi's account of the Sautrāntika view. The Sautrāntika, as K’uei-chi describes it, puts much emphasis on the aggregated and thus unreal aspect of the sense-object, denying the causal role of atoms (paramāṇu) themselves in its formulation. As I shall argue in this paper, the Sautrāntikas were rather anti-realists in the beginning, perhaps a disappointing result to those who hold the above-mentioned standard view of the Sautrāntika as being a realist.

To be sure, these scholars try to corroborate this standard view of the Sautrāntika by culling some textual evidence, but their references are practically confined to Vasubandhu’s accounts of Sautrāntika positions in the AKBh. The problem is that the recent scholarship has brought into question the sectarian origins of Vasubandhu’s Sautrāntika theories, extensively discussing their Dārṣṭāntika or Yogācāra-connections. That is, we are no longer in a position to naively subscribe to the standard understanding of the Sautrāntika dogmatics and of their sectarian identity.

Most notable in this respect is Śrīlāta, actual founder of the Sautrāntika school, whose ideas, as represented in Saṅghabhadra’s Nyāyānusāra, had exercised enormous influences on the formation of Vasubandhu's accounts of Sautrāntika. Thus, Śrīlāta’s views may deserve to be called “proto-Sautrāntika” as opposed to Vasubandhu’s rather modified accounts of the Sautrāntika positions.

What this paper aims to demonstrate is that this so-called standard view of the Sautrāntika as a realist is neither in line with K’uei-chi’s account of the Sautrāntika nor with Śrīlāta's proto-Sautrāntika positions but rather reflects Vasubandhu's own accounts of the Sautrāntika positions.


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