Brizzy wrote:"how does one practice Abhidhamma"?
Can it be used to calm the mind or control arising anger?
How do the writers of the Abhidhamma books advise people to "practice"?
Meindzai gave you good pointers already. I think it's evident that answers to your questions will depend on who you ask, so don’t take what I say here on some sort of authority – this is just how I see it at the moment.
Abhidhamma to me is largely a description of how everything is experienced with very, very developed insight. So, in that sense I find it helps tremendously in regard of developing understanding, and that's what seems important since it's understanding that ultimately cuts through ignorance and the associated problems like anger, greed, lack of peace, etc.
As to how to practice, again it will depend on who you ask, but usually first you’d need to study/read a bit. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to contact an abhidhamma teacher and he will give you instructions. If not, then you’d just have to read what’s available online/in libraries. Hopefully, at some point, what you’ve read/learned will start to makes sense on the practical level, and then you will start to understand the ordinary things you normally do in a new light, no matter whether it’s calming the mind, developing metta, meditation, cooking, etc.
E.g. for me, since I’ve started studying abhidhamma a bit, suddenly a whole lot of things started making sense, in particular samatha, developing sila (precepts, metta, etc), understanding suttas, etc. It kind of adds a whole new dimension to everything. In fact, I find it hard to separate sutta and abhidhamma pitakas now – they kind of work the best together (hopefully I'll find time at some point to explore vinaya too).
Anyway, I guess this was more a chronological explanation of sorts than answering directly to your question of “how to practice”. I think “how” will basically depend on the approach you have the inclination for. Some people only study and discuss abhidhamma and they find that’s sufficient to develop insight. Others apply what they learn in abhidhmma to the practice they already had before and hopefully enhance it in that way. Yet others use both approaches at different times, etc. I guess you’d be able to decide what suits you when you become a little more familiar with it and hopefully hear from an experienced teacher as well.
If you’re in the mood for some reading, this is a good overview:
The Abhidhamma in Practice
That was the first thing I read, and then went onto the two works Meindzai linked, and then to the first one in the list in the abhidhamma resources thread:
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