No one can quite figure out how to navigate this. My own solution was “Abhidha(r/m)ma” but that is equally odd - looking.
Theravada abhidhamma texts are the product of generations of knowledgeable practitioners who were considerably closer to the Buddha’s time than modernist “commentaries” that denigrate their value.
Clearly it’s not useful for everybody. Unfortunately, many who disparage it’s value based on their own preferences and inclinations feel the need to universalize their own biases. Then there are those who claim to have studied abhidhamma for years but didn’t get it, or didn’t have proper teaching. (I.e. “Bhante”, “Mahathera”, “Sayadawgyi” etc. Vimalaramsi, who also claims to have studied “long times” with a long list is prominent teachers throughout South-East Asia. And who insists upon EBT-type sources, yet himself teachers basically the commentarial version of metta. I suspect there’s something fishy in his claims to authority.)
Ah ha ha ha Indeed that’s how Abhidhamma usually reads to me, just like that
However, I did have one very good experience receiving abhidhamma teachings from Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche, who made them very practical and directly relevant to meditation training (it was on a samatha retreat).
I can’t convey what he taught. But here’s a little pdf I made of an extract of the text he was working from. Deep contemplation of the eleven wholesome factors, and the twenty lesser defilements, one by one, can I believe be very useful and practical. So I provide that text here in case it’s useful for anyone:
Treasury of Precious Qualities, Jigme Lingpa - Justin extracted Appendix 4.pdf (673.8 KB)
And here is a very poor essay I did in a great rush, but addresses those lists above differentiating them into cognitive and affective aspects. Badly written, please don’t judge me too harshly, would not usually share such poor work but in case it’s useful to anyone looking at those lists of qualities:
An examination of the Fifty-one Mental Factors from a modern perspective - Justin Williams.pdf (76.0 KB)
Reading the Abhidhamma has been deeply confusing and frustrating to me. I feel like it garbles everything that is clear about the suttas. This could just be my own inexperience, of course, but that raises the question: How does a beginner start studying it? Are there any good guides out there that explain its methodology and conventions?
Reading the Visudhimagga has been a mixed experience for me. A lot of it appears as just more imponderable nonsense to me, though of course I recognize that it must make sense to others. Much of the rest is interesting mythology, but I don’t really know what to do with that in terms of my practice. In those places, it’s like reading Homer or Dante. And then other parts of it are glorious and beautiful, and of immediate use in practice – like chapter XII, on the Brahmaviharas. I don’t think I understood the Brahmaviharas at all before I read that section, and I refer to it often. I wish I could get the same benefit from the rest of the text.
Best to think of the Visuddhimagga as a text or source-book for Dhamma and meditation teachers, rather than a meditation guide per se. There’s lots of great and very practical meditation advice.
Unfortunately, I don’t know any modern and accessible introductions to it, someone should do one!
What about ‘What the Buddha Taught’ by Walpola Rahula? Isn’t that basically just Visuddhimagga doctrine? I haven’t read it myself, but that’s what I heard.
Not really, it’s general modernist Buddhism. It’s not an explanation of the Visuddhimagga.
Ah fair enough. I’ve never read it, but just remember Gombrich saying the title that would suit it better would be ‘What Buddhaghosa Taught’. I guess his views have had quite a pervasive effect on modern Theravada doctrine.
i don’t recommend starting with reading dhammasanghani from start to finish. It seems to me that Vibhanga is quite complementary to the Sutta and the sanghani comes into play when one get’s into the specifics of the various states and factors. Loosely it is like this;
Vibhanga - aggregates & namarupa
Dhammasanghani - jhana, path, fruition
I think it is best to get a good general idea before using the Abhidhamma to tidy up the expression but it is good to learn the basic principles of Abhidhamma early so one has a general idea of it’s take on words like the Path and Jhana.