This thread is an off-shoot of this older thread.
A question here for anyone interested in the Abhidhamma, does denying the individual characteristics of dhammas count as annihilationism in the Abhidhamma schema?
I was under the impression that ucchedavada was belief that "self" is destroyed at death, whereas the above explanation seems very remote from that.
Here's my take on this topic, I'm basically trying to figure out what's the middle way in approaching this topic without sliding into either of the extreme views of annihilationism/eternalism regarding what is a dhamma, what is meant by "existence" of a dhamma, etc.
At the moment my hypothesis is that a dhamma, or its nature (the Pali term often used in this sense is "sabhava") is equivalent to its:
1) Individual characteristics (e.g. dhamma's function - feeling has the function to feel, perception perceives, citta congizes, sati is mindful, etc)
2) General characteristics (anatta, dukkha and anicca)
3) Conditioned nature
With these 3 point in mind, I hypothesize that claiming that the nature of a dhamma is anything more than these 3 would indicate sliding towards eternalist views, while claiming that a dhamma is anything less than those three (e.g. to deny its individual characteristics) would be to slide towards annihilationist views.
Here are some of the quotes which I think support such reasoning - of course these quotes are not a result of some super-original research that I made - most of them were provided by other people through various discussions, so I just assemble them here because they seem relevant:
1. The boundary beyond which eternalism comes into the picture seems to correspond to denying conditioned nature of dhammas:
"What is voidness in change? Born materiality is void of individual
essence; disappeared materiality is both changed and void. Born
feeling is void of individual essence; disappeared feeling is both
changed and void. Born perception...Born being is void of individual
essence; disappeared being is both changed and void."
Footnote 1 (from the Saddhammappakaasinii, the Commentary to the Pa.tisambhidamagga):
"'Void of individual essence': here sabhava (individual
essence) is saya.m bhavo (essence by itself); arising of itself (sayam
eva uppado) is the meaning. Or sabhava is sako bhavo (own
essence); own arising (attano yeva uppado). Because of existence in
dependence on conditions (paccayayattavuttitta) there is in it
no essence by itself or essence of its own, thus it is 'void of
individual essence'. What is meant is that it is void of essence by
itself or of its own essence.
-note: both the above and below transcriptions were taken from posts by RobertK, which I've saved.
The boundary below which annihilationism seems to come into the picture seems to correspond to denying the individual characteristics (translated as "specific nature" below) of a dhamma (in fact the below quote seems to indicate that characteristics are in fact what a dhamma "is"):
the majjhimanikaya tika (mulapariyaya sutta) has the following
to say. I use bhikkhu bodhi's translation p39.
It comments on the atthakatha which says "they bear their own
characteristics, thus they are dhammas."
The tika(subcommentary ) notes. "although there are no dhammas
devoid of their own characteristics this is said fro the purpose
of showing that mere dhammas endowed with their specific natures
devoid of such attributes as being etc... whereas such entities
as self, permanence or nature, soul, body etc are mere
misconstructions due to craving and views...and cannot be
discovered as ultinately real actualities, these dhammas
(ie.those endowed with a specific sabhava) can. these dhammas
are discovered as actually real actualties. And although there
IS NO REAL DISTINCTION between these dhammas and their
characteristics, still, in order to facilitate understanding,
the exposition makes a distinction as a mere metaphorical
device. Also they are borne, or they are discerned, known ,
acccording to their specific nature, thus they are dhammas"
2. Importantly, the last line also seems to indicate that the characteristics are in fact experienced during insight - so characteristics don't seem to be a matter of speculation, views, conventions, but of actual insight. In abhidhamma terms, I think this would be explained that characteristics are not a matter of ditthi cetasika (views) arising with akusala citta, but a matter of insight - kusala citta arising with panna and sati, which take a dhamma as the object. In other words, what's taken as the object during insight seem to be the actual characteristics of a dhamma.
3. Hence my conclusion that dhammas and their characteristics are not just an illusion or a matter of explanation, but something that is actually experienced to happen during insight. In that sense it could be said that dhammas "exist", as long as the notion of "existence" is not taken beyond the 3 points I outlined in the beginning. In that sense, here's a sutta which speaks in favor of "existence":
"And what is it, bhikkhus, that the wise in the world agree upon as
existing, of which I too say that it exists? Form that is impermanent,
suffering, and subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as
existing, and I too say that it exists. Feeling ... Perception... Volitional
formations...Consciousness that is is impermanent, suffering, and subject to
change: this the wise in the world agree upon as existing, and I too say that it
It's probably obvious that three general characteristics are addressed above, but I think it's important to draw attention to the fact that feeling, perception, form, etc are all dhammas, i.e. they are differentiated thanks to their individual characteristics, and they are said above to exist. If this differentiation wasn't important, then there would be no point in speaking about 5 aggregates, nor for that matter speaking in other suttas about 5 faculties, 7 factors of enlightenment, 5 powers, etc, all of which are certain dhammas.
4. Now, I'd guess that most people would agree that conditionality and three general characteristics are indisputable when it comes to considering what does the "existence" of a dhamma mean, but not everyone would still agree when it comes to individual characteristics. Therefore, here are a few quotes that do seem to indicate that the occurrence of understanding of individual characteristics is just as valid during insight, i.e. it's not a matter of proliferation:
Visuddhimagga has quite a bit of material in that sense, here's one bit I remember where to look for:
Vsm IV,52-53 wrote:for this is said: 'Bhikkhus, there are profitable and unprofitable
states, reprehensible and blameless states, inferior and superior states,
dark and bright states the counterpart of each other. Wise attention much
practised therein is the nutriment for the arising of the unarisen investigation-
of-states enlightenment factor, or leads to the growth, fulfilment,
development and perfection of the arisen investigation-of-states enlightenment
53. Herein, wise attention given to the profitable, etc., is attention
occurring in penetration of individual essences and of [the three] general
I take it "individual essence" above is equivalent to individual characteristics.
And it'd be good to consider Maha-satipatthana sutta, which says for example:
Thus he dwells perceiving again and again dhammas as just dhammas (not mine, not I, not self, but just as phenomena) in himself; or he dwells perceiving again and again dhammas as just dhammas in others; or he dwells perceiving again and again dhammas as just dhammas in both himself and in others. He dwells perceiving again and again the cause and the actual appearing of dhammas; or he dwells perceiving again and again the cause and the actual dissolution of dhammas; or he dwells perceiving again and again both the actual appearing and dissolution of dhammas with their causes.
To summarize, he is firmly mindful of the fact that only dhammas exist (not a soul, a self or I).
That's from the fourth foundation which is usually translated as "mental objects" instead of "dhammas" (this translation from here ). Still, the same is said for other foundations, e.g:
To summarize, he is firmly mindful of the fact that only feelings exists (not a soul, a self or I).
5. So my conclusion is that during a moment of insight, there's an understanding of an individual characteristic of a dhamma (e.g. knowing that it's a feeling) and an understanding of one of its general characteristics (e.g. that that feeling is anatta). And then if insight is mature, there would also be an understanding of the conditioned nature.
6. I'm not sure exactly how the maturation occurs. My guess is that first individual characteristics are thoroughly understood. E.g. the first stage of tender insight (nāma-rūpa-pariccheda-ñāna) distinguishes between nama and rupa, which are different dhammas, so there must be a good understanding here of the difference in individual characteristics between nama(s) and rupa. On the second stage of tender insight (paccaya-pariggaha-ñāna) understanding of conditionality seems to happen. So, I'm just not sure whether the general characteristics are also known all the way from the first stage or only at later stages. My guess is that it happens later on. But this is a slightly different topic...
Anyway, that's what seems important to me on this topic so far. I'd be glad to hear from other on this topic, in particular from tilt, who I have a feeling will disagree with some of my points here.