Book of Analysis, knowledge (Vb 16): translator's introduction

By Waltham St. Lawrence

(16) Analysis Of Knowledge (Ñāṇavibhaṅga).

It is often said by those who have newly come into contact with the Teaching of the Buddha that there appears to be such a mass of technical information to absorb; moreover, they say it so often seems to be expressed numerically as "three of this, six of that, eight of something else, and so on". At first, and particularly to those who have not been accustomed to having so systematic an arrangement of subject matter in connection with religion, this can come as a somewhat bewildering surprise at the thought of there being so much to learn. Later, when these same students have formed a basis of general appreciation of the all embracing and essential truth of the entirely practical nature of the Buddha's Teaching, they come to comprehend that although there certainly is a great mass of information upon which to draw, its real purpose is constantly to turn the student's scholastic knowledge in the direction of Right Understanding. Complicated the Teaching [lxiv] certainly is when dealing with its deeper issues of cause, resultant and relationships; however, therein lie the answers to those questions which arise quite naturally in the mind of the earnest seeker after truth who wishes to penetrate to the very core of the nature of becoming.

If knowledge is to be absorbed, digested, refined and converted to understanding—and this is the sole purpose of the practice of the Teaching—then it is far more convenient and useful to the student that the information he seeks should be systematically arranged than that there should be no apparent order, or that different aspects of one subject should be spread over and mixed with a wide range of dissimilar subjects. Here it is that the Abhidhamma method of teaching is so very practical and to the point, That an analytical system of classification has always been of primary importance, though, is shown by the fact that through-out the collections of discourses of the Buddha contained in the Sutta Piṭaka it is always to be observed that the arrangement is either in accordance with the length (Dīgha and Majjhima Nikāyas), according to grouping of topic (Saṃyutta Nikāya), in accordance with numerical arrangement (Aṅguttara Nikāya) or according to special individual classification (Khuddaka Nikāya). In the Abhidhamma Piṭaka, however, classification is shown in its most organized and connected form.

In this particular vibhaṅga, the sixteenth, the subject with which it is concerned, Paññā, i.e., knowledge, wisdom, understanding, is one which is dealt with exhaustively throughout the whole of the Sutta Piṭaka, there being few discourses in which the Buddha does not speak on one or other aspect of understanding. In this vibhaṅga, however, for the greater convenience of the student there is collected together the very many groupings into which this subject may be classified in connection with the Buddha's purpose. The classifications extend from the single to a tenfold system of grouping. It will be particularly noticed that the first, second, and third divisions depend very largely, as might reasonably be expected, on the Triplet and Couplet sections of Dhammasaṅgaṇī, and are therefore similar in construction to the Interrogation sections of many of the other vibhaṅgas in this volume. In the fourfold to ninefold sections inclusive, a great many of the particular aspects of knowledge already occurring in other vibhaṅgas are here collected and will be readily recognized. [lxv] Also many of the other knowledges with which the student becomes early acquainted In various sections of the Tipiṭaka are here listed in their proper order. This system is adopted clearly for the purpose of their being easily remembered and called to mind as required.

The classification by way of the tenfold method is of particular importance in that it demonstrates clearly the very wide basis of special knowledge upon which the unique qualities of a Buddha stand. In this section it states that he understands as it really is, (1) Cause, (2) Resultant, (3) the outcome of these two in terms of progress or fall. He understands (4), the elements, etc, constituting all conditioned things, also (5), the dispositions and qualities inherent in beings, (6) the nature of the controlling faculties of beings and thereby their latent tendencies. He understands fully (7), the nature and practice of Jhāna; he possesses (8), knowledge of previous existences, (9) knowledge of the nature of the passing away and of the rebirth of beings, and (10) of the utter destruction of the defilements.

The arrangement of this vibhaṅga is purely numerical. It consists of a tenfold 'mātika', or matrix, upon which the chapter is based. This is followed by a tenfold exposition in which the subjects originally stated are expanded and explained. The method of exposition contains all the elements of the three modes of analysis, so in this case separate division into these usual three sections would not be practicable. The Analysis of Knowledge is a subject eminently suited to a numerical treatment, and it is for this reason as well as that its contents apply equally to all other vibhaṅgas in this volume that it is included among the four final sections.