The Seven Books of the Abhidhamma

Introduction

The Abhidhamma consists of the following seven books:

  1. Dhammasangaṇī (translated as “Buddhist Psychological Ethics”, P.T.S.

    and also translated by U Kyaw, Myanmar.)

  2. Vibhaṅga (translated as “ Book of Analysis”, P.T.S.)

  3. Dhātukathā (Translated as “Discourse on Elements”, P.T.S.)

  4. Puggalapaññatti (Translated as “A Designation of Human Types”,

    P.T.S.)

  5. Kathā vatthu (Translated as “Points of Controversy”, P.T.S.)

  6. Yamaka (the Book of Pairs, not translated into English)

  7. Paṭṭhāna (Translated in part as “Conditional Relations”, P.T.S. )

A summary of the contents of these seven books has been given by Ven. Nyanatiloka in his “Guide through the Abhidhamma Piṭaka” (B.P.S. Kandy, 1971) and also by U Kyaw Khine in the introduction to his translation of the Dhammasaṅ ganī. Therefore, I will render only some salient features of each book with the purpose to show that the classifications found in the Abhidhamma are not mere lists to be read and memorized. They all point to the investigation of the realities of our daily life. In this way the paññā is developed that sees realities as they are, as impermanent, dukkha and anattā. This kind of paññā leads to the eradication of defilements. The commentary to the Dhammasaṅganī, the first book, is the “Atthasālinī”, edited by the venerable Buddhaghosa and translated as “Expositor”. The Dhammasaṅganī begins with the Mātika, a table of contents or matrix, which is an introduction. It is more extensive than a table of contents. This mā tikā has been arranged by way of triads and dyads. It is a survey of the contents of the first book and can even serve as an introduction to all seven books. Different groups of defilements have been listed, such as the intoxicants (āsavas), fetters, ties, floods, yokes, hindrances. After the Abhidhamma matrix there is a Suttanta matrix, explaining sutta terms. The Atthas ālinī, the commentary to the Dhammasaṅganī, dedicates a whole chapter to explain the notions of the Mātika. The Mātikā begins with: kusala dhammā, akusala dhammā, avyā kata dhammā. In these three terms all that is real has been contained. In avyākata dhammā, indeterminate dhammas, are included all realities that are not kusala or akusala, namely: vipākacittas, kiriyacittas, rū pas and nibbāna. The whole Tipiṭaka is directed towards the liberation from the cycle of birth and death through insight. This appears also in the Mātika, where we read (1013-1015):

"Dhammas going to building up; going to pulling down; going to neither." The Atthasālinī elaborates: "... ’accumulation’ means that which is accumulated by kamma and corruptions. It is a name for the processes of rebirth and decease. ’Leading to accumulation’ are ’those causes which by being accomplished to go to, lead a man, in whom they arise, to that round of rebirth’. It is a name for co-intoxicant moral or immoral states. Nibbāna being free from ’cumulation’, which is another word for ’accumulation’, is called dispersion. ’Leading to dispersion’ is ’going towards that dispersion which he has made his object.’ It is a name for the Ariyan Paths. Or, ’leading to accumulation’ are those states which go about severally arranging (births and deaths in) a round of destiny like a bricklayer who arranges bricks, layer by layer, in a wall.’ ’Leading to dispersion’ are those states which go about destroying that very round, like a man who continually removes the bricks as they are laid by the mason."