Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Coëmgenu
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Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Coëmgenu » Fri Sep 16, 2016 1:28 pm

Greetings all, I've been away for a bit,

This thread seeks to clarify some of the evident misconceptions I have about what exactly is written in the Abhidhamma, what the Abhidhamma argues, and what Nagarjuna was "refuting", if anything, in his establishment of the Madhyamaka narratives.

Ideally, it would not devolve into questions such as a) is the Abhidhamma an authoritative transmission of Buddhavacana? b) is the Abhidhamma a heretical text c) is the Abhidhamma related to the sutta-layer of the teachings, since there is already an extensive thread covering all of these issues (or is there not? It seems to have disappeared).

Earlier in the month I made an apparent boo-boo on this thread when I stated what I had thought was a generally agreed-upon fact vis-a-vis Mahayana-Theravada polemics:
Coemgenu wrote:Similarly the Heart Sutra does not address the Theravada Abhidhamma directly. The Emptiness Doctrine expounded in the sutra, however, contradicts Abhidhammic teachings.
What followed was a bit of disputation of my previously held beliefs (which is always a pleasure), namely that the writings of Nagarjuna are not a refutation or response to Theravada Abhidhammic discourse (I'm still in the process of exploring this idea). If it is true that the conception of Nagarjuna apparently addressing Theravada-specifc Abhidhammic discourse is a widely held misconception, from where/whence originates the misconception that Mahayana Emptiness-teachings are antithetical to the Theravada Abhidhammapitaka?

This misconception is probably more limited to myself than any of the teachers I have had in the past, since it is something I moreso inferred than directly was told, or something that came up among fellow uneducated lay practitioners, but it pops up in many areas that could perhaps be catagorized as "questionable Dhamma", that I no-doubt read at an earlier stage in my progress when my discernment was poorer and I had little ability to discriminate appropriately between reputable and unreputable sources of Dhamma.

Take this seemingly (in my opinion) dubious site, called "Nuclear Dhamma" that states:
The Madhyamaka is regarded as a reaction against the development of the Abhidhamma. In the abhidhamma, the understanding of anatman is developed by analysing phenomena into single dhammas, "each with an inherent 'own-nature'". By doing so, the Abhidhamma analysis constituted independent existing 'things', contrary to the Buddha's teachings on the middle way.
(if this is not an appropriate site to link to, I apologize, it was only for the purposes of this post, which addresses misconceptions specifically)

Similar information as this was previously, I am pretty sure, on the wikipedia pages for Theravada Buddhism, the Abhidhamma, and on a previous version of Nagarjuna's page, but it has been removed (perhaps rightly), it would seem. I distinctly remember reading an account of this above discourse on wikipedia before but can't find it now.

From an uneducated layman's perspective, namely my own, but I think others share this misconception, it seems, from this (mis)information, that the Abhidhamma argues for a distinct separate external world, and a separate external "Nibbanic world" (using the word "world" metaphorically), that these are "prime dhammas", that are "existent on their own" (sabhāva), irrespective to sentience, perception, etc... which amounts to what is called, in the West, "substance dualism", where one fundamental substance is "existence" and one fundamental substance is "Nibbana", and that there is little commonality between the two.

Although I don't know if it is an "official teaching", my fellow lay Mahayanists, of various levels of education, often believe the Emptiness Doctrine to be a refutation of this substance dualism that transcends the duality between the two that is (allegedly) established by that school called the Hinayana, which is often believed to be the Theravada tradition (although it seems even that is under fire as a probably misconception). The Doctrine of Interpenetration is often also presented as a refutation of the alleged Theravada teaching of "Nibbana-as-an-Absolute-Other" (my phraseology).

Where does this discourse run off-the-tracks from an Abhidhammic/Abhidhammika perspective? What is being said that is incorrectly inferred, or, blatantly fabricated? And from where/whence does this misconception concerning the substance dualism of the samsara-nibbana dichotimy in Theravada come from?
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः

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Aloka
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Aloka » Fri Sep 16, 2016 2:27 pm

.

Is the Theravada Abhidhamma different to the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma and the Yogacarin Abhidharma ?

.

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Coëmgenu » Fri Sep 16, 2016 2:31 pm

Aloka wrote:.

Is the Theravada Abhidhamma different to the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma and the Yogacarin Abhidharma ?

.
I believe all of those Abhidha(r/m)ma (Theravada, Sarvastivada, Yogacara) come from diverse textual traditions that aren't the most directly related, but the central misconception is the ascribing to the Theravada Abhidhamma specifically things that are allegedly not found truly therein.

Edit: if anyone happens to be familiar with the contents of the Sarvāstivāda or Yogācāra Abhidharmic traditions, though, input would not at all be unwlecome, since one hypothetical source for the arisings of these misconceptions seems to be the attribution of one line of Abhidhammic discourse, to other Abhidhammas (i.e. incorrectly co-inflating teachings from diverse Abhidhammas).
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः

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tiltbillings
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Sep 16, 2016 4:44 pm

Aloka wrote:.

Is the Theravada Abhidhamma different to the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma and the Yogacarin Abhidharma ?

.
Yes.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Aloka
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Aloka » Fri Sep 16, 2016 5:25 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Aloka wrote:.

Is the Theravada Abhidhamma different to the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma and the Yogacarin Abhidharma ?

.
Yes.
Thanks, Tilt.

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tiltbillings
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Sep 16, 2016 5:56 pm

The attached PDF comes from Rupert Gethin's excellent THE FOUNDATIONS OF BUDDHISM. It addresses the issues raised in the OP. Not all of the diacritics survived. Most of the footnote markes have been deleted. Other than that, this should address your concerns.
Attachments
Nagarjuna tfofb Rupert Gethin.pdf
(243.96 KiB) Downloaded 54 times
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Sep 16, 2016 7:45 pm

Thanks Tilt, that's very useful.

:anjali:
Mike

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Coëmgenu » Fri Sep 16, 2016 7:56 pm

tiltbillings wrote:The attached PDF comes from Rupert Gethin's excellent THE FOUNDATIONS OF BUDDHISM. It addresses the issues raised in the OP. Not all of the diacritics survived. Most of the footnote markes have been deleted. Other than that, this should address your concerns.
Succinctly stated. :goodpost:
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः

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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Coyote » Fri Sep 16, 2016 9:38 pm

I don't have much to add in the way of an answer, but I would recommend 'Nāgārjuna in context : Mahāyāna Buddhism and early Indian culture' by Joseph Walser, particularly the chapter 'on the Parasitic Strategies of the Mahāyāna', which, if I remember correctly, looks at the development of Madhyamaka/early Mahāyāna doctrines such as the nondifference between nirvāṇa and saṃsara in an Abhidharmic context. I'm not sure what I am allowed to post here, otherwise I would post the relevant sections.
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
Iti 26

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Coëmgenu » Fri Sep 16, 2016 10:38 pm

Coyote wrote:I don't have much to add in the way of an answer, but I would recommend 'Nāgārjuna in context : Mahāyāna Buddhism and early Indian culture' by Joseph Walser, particularly the chapter 'on the Parasitic Strategies of the Mahāyāna', which, if I remember correctly, looks at the development of Madhyamaka/early Mahāyāna doctrines such as the nondifference between nirvāṇa and saṃsara in an Abhidharmic context. I'm not sure what I am allowed to post here, otherwise I would post the relevant sections.
One could always PM me if one was afraid of copyright woes on the interwebs :bow:

I've actually read a fair chunk of the text, but the version I was reading online was incomplete.
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः

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tiltbillings
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Sep 16, 2016 11:39 pm

Coyote wrote:I don't have much to add in the way of an answer, but I would recommend 'Nāgārjuna in context : Mahāyāna Buddhism and early Indian culture' by Joseph Walser, particularly the chapter 'on the Parasitic Strategies of the Mahāyāna', which, if I remember correctly, looks at the development of Madhyamaka/early Mahāyāna doctrines such as the nondifference between nirvāṇa and saṃsara in an Abhidharmic context. I'm not sure what I am allowed to post here, otherwise I would post the relevant sections.
Post it. If it is not appropriate it will give the moderation team something to do, and you can always blame me. And I'd like to see it (again).
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Sep 17, 2016 12:07 am

It's worth looking at Tiltbillings' collection of analyses of the Abhidamma to clear up some of the misconceptions...

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=3059#p44065
A number of quotes from various commentators, summarised as:
Dhammas, in the Theravada Abhidhamma Pitaka, are "ultimate things" only as a way of talking about aspects of the relational flow of experience, not in terms of describing static realities. In other words, dhammas are empty of self.
:anjali:
Mike

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Coëmgenu » Sat Sep 17, 2016 1:53 am

mikenz66 wrote:It's worth looking at Tiltbillings' collection of analyses of the Abhidamma to clear up some of the misconceptions...

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=3059#p44065
A number of quotes from various commentators, summarised as:
Dhammas in the Theravada Abhidhamma Pitaka are "ultimate things" only as a way of talking about aspects about the relational flow of experience, not in terms of describing static realities. In other words, dhammas are empty of self.
:anjali:
Mike
I've been indebted to Tiltbillings' knowledge-drops on this site more than a few times when it comes to seeking out illuminating literature.

It seems that if Nagarjuna was reacting to anything, it's more likely that it was a strain of Abhidhamma-fundamentalism, or Abhidhamma-only-ism, with a heterodox Abhidhammic discourse and/or the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma itself, rather than to the Theravada Abhidhamma as it is presently understood, that much is clear.
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः

Coyote
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by Coyote » Sat Sep 17, 2016 7:44 am

Here is the chapter:
Attachments
Nagarjuna in Context.Parasitic Strategies.pdf
(268.27 KiB) Downloaded 51 times
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
Iti 26

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tiltbillings
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Re: Abhidhammic Misconceptions

Post by tiltbillings » Sat Sep 17, 2016 9:19 am

Coyote wrote:Here is the chapter:
I got to read this book before it was published, so it has been a fair while since I read it. As I see it, this chapter certainly is appropriate to the OP, and is really very interesting in its concluding remarks and in what leads up to them. Thanks.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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