Book of Analysis, small items (Vb 17): translator's introduction

By Waltham St. Lawrence

(17) Analysis Of Small Items (Khuddakavibhaṅga).

In paragraph 390 of this translation, where the subject is the Four Right Strivings, the text says, "Herein a Bhikkhu engenders wish, makes effort, arouses energy, exerts the mind, strives for the non-arising of evil, bad states that have not arisen … strives for the abandoning of evil, bad states that have arisen …".

What are bad states, how are they defined, what is it that should be prevented from arising, what is it that should be abandoned? [lxvi] These are questions which are of very real and immediate importance to one who is trying to follow in any way the Buddha's injunction as to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Right Strivings and the achievement of the Noble Eight Constituent Path. The short answer to these questions is the abandoning of any state of consciousness rooted either in greed, hatred or ignorance. These three roots, however, are not by any means always easy to identify. In their more gross forms they sometimes become obvious even to those experiencing their own false view, false speech, false action and false livelihood. In those who discern such states and who are convinced of their harmful nature, the process of inhibiting them as a preliminary to their ultimate eradication can be commenced. Nevertheless, these three bad roots and their associated mental factors, which are referred to in the text as "evil, bad states", are customarily far less obvious in their more usual modes of manifestation than in their grosser forms. In their even finer and more subtle forms they become so deep and hidden from view that in the great majority of cases they pass quite unnoticed, or indeed where noticed are often even associated with thought, speech and action which is mistakenly considered to be wise and virtuous, and therefore much to be encouraged,

This, the seventeenth vibhaṅga, here entitled Analysis of Small Items, approaches the matter of the bad states in a numerical system of classification similar to that adopted in the previous section on knowledge, consisting as it does of a summary and exposition divided into ten sections. From its Pāḷi title, Khuddakavibhaṅga, it should not be thought that in translating Khuddaka as Small Items any suggestion of unimportance or insignificance is in any way implied; on the contrary, this is a most important and revealing chapter, and should be considered as being one of the most vital sections of the whole work.

Here in this analysis of so-called Small Items is to be found a very complete statement of the many bad aspects of thought and action which are often so deeply rooted in one's normal behaviour as virtually to pass unnoticed. If the student, however, is earnest in his intention in the inhibiting and eradicating of 'evil, bad states', he will call to mind the words in paragraph 508 of the text which says, "aṇumattesu vajjesu bhayadassāvī", by which he should consider in himself the essential need to be 'one seeing [lxvii] peril in (his) slightest faults'. With this in mind he will seek to discover the meaning of every mental state as it arises, whether it be for thought alone or for translation into action. By practice he will thus probe deeper and deeper into thoughts, the existence of which he had previously been unaware, with the purpose of finding out and understanding the motive underlying those thoughts. Behaviour which he had once thought to be quite proper he will find to have a twisted or corrupted motive. Speech which he had once thought of as correct and pleasing he will find fundamentally to have been directed towards his own selfish gain. His whole thought he will find to be a very nest and stronghold of 'evil, bad states'. This is what the Buddha meant the student to become aware of and to take action about, when he spoke so unambiguously of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

This vibhaṅga is a key chapter, therefore, designed specifically with the intention of prompting the student in what he should look for and by inference what course of action he should adopt. This is not a chapter where 'evil, bad states' are listed for academic reasons, just to be read or memorized, it is as with all the other vibhaṅgas in this volume a text book of information and knowledge put together in proper sequence to be studied and remembered as a straightforward guide to the student, that he may develop as the direct result of his mindfulness the eight constituents of the Noble Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering.

As a closing section to this vibhaṅga there is an eleventh exposition dealing with the eighteen special occurrences of craving (taṇhā). This is of particular importance as it shows the very many ways in which this most difficult to eradicate component of the system of Dependent Origination manifests itself constantly and in almost every aspect of one's thinking, from the apparently simple consideration, "I am", up to the complicated attitude of mind which thinks, "By means of this, would that I may be otherwise",

Also in this final exposition is a summary of the sixty-two wrong views which are stated in full in the Brahmajāla Sutta of Dīgha Nikāya. These also are aspects of craving.

The Analysis of Small Items is a most revealing chapter, for it shows quite clearly, if only from the sheer magnitude of its content of 'evil, bad states', that release from the bonds of [lxviii] ignorance and craving is not to be obtained by any means other than by striving in respect of the Practice of Morality in its fullest and widest sense, by striving as regards correct and systematic Mental Development and by striving towards the gaining of understanding and wisdom.

(18) Analysis Of The Heart Of The Teaching (Dhammahadayavibhaṅga).

This, the eighteenth and final vibhaṅga of The Book of Analysis, differs from the other sections of the work in that instead of dealing with a single topic and explaining many of the ramifications of that topic, it concerns itself with a statement, exposition, details of occurrence, properties and analysis in terms of certain of the Triplets and Couplets of Dhammasaṅgaṇī of twelve of the most important technical groupings in the Buddha's Teaching of the analysis of states, viz., aggregates, bases, elements, truths, controlling faculties, roots, nutrients, contact, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness. Although the first five of these have been extensively examined in the opening chapters of this work, the method of approach in this final section differs somewhat. The opening paragraphs are indeed purely a statement and exposition of the subjects concerned, and are in most cases a summary of what has gone before. However, whereas in the earlier chapters the analysis has largely been directed toward the subjects themselves by examining their structure and functions, it is here shown more in the way of their occurrence in the various planes of existence, their ability or inability, in accordance with a Couplet of the Dhammasaṅgaṇī to be or to take objects. There is also a collected investigation as to their occurrence or otherwise in terms of five selected Triplets, and a further two Couplets of Dhammasaṅgaṇī. Where dealing with the arising of these states in the various planes of existence, opportunity is taken of enlarging on the subject by giving many details concerning those planes, such as their scope, the type of action which causes rebirth therein, and the characteristics of the different types of being who are born into their appropriate levels of existence.

There is a very great deal of information in this chapter, which, as its name suggests, is the core or the basis upon which is to be built an understanding of the way in which states occur and [lxix] operate in their many and varied ways. This is a chapter in which the essentials of activity of these twelve subjects are collected together, not as a substitute or as a summary of what has already been discussed in the earlier vibhaṅgas, and in the preceding volume Dhammasaṅgaṇī, but as a necessary supplement to them in straightforward and relatively unexpanded form.


To the reader of this introduction it will be abundantly clear that what has so far been written about the eighteen vibhaṅgas of this translation has only touched upon a few of the more obvious aspects of the subjects dealt with. Many will no doubt be disappointed that so sketchy an outline of the relationship between the sections has been made; that practically no cross referencing has been attempted or parallel passages quoted from other sections of the Tipiṭaka, and particularly that very little has been said of the choice of English equivalents for many of the more awkward Pāḷi terms, or comparisons made with the values chosen by other workers in this field.

There has been no discussion at all of the meanings and implications of the combined one hundred and twenty-two divisions of the Triplets and Couplets, nor has there been attempted any explanatory expansion of the more highly compressed vibhaṅgas. For these and a great many other omissions and failures of clarification, the only evidence for defence offered is that as it seemed highly desirable to complete this work, with its Preface, Introduction, Contents, Translated Text and Index in one volume, space became the all important consideration. There is, however, another aspect of the matter, which although not directly concerned with this particular volume would nevertheless seem to be of some moment. Abhidhamma scholarship in the West has unfortunately for one reason and another been seriously neglected. Not the least of these reasons has been the fearsome appearance of the classifications themselves, together with that somewhat terse and arid structure which gave rise to the quite erroneous, but nevertheless highly influential, mention of the "valley of dry bones". It is admitted without reserve that first contact with the Abhidhamma texts is, to say the least, bewildering. Closer and longer association, however, rapidly dispels that [lxx] first impression, and shows them to be friendly and helpful works carrying on their pages an infinity of instruction for direct and personal application, research and proper practice.

Of the trilogy spoken of above: Dhammasaṅgaṇī, Vibhaṅga and Dhātukathā: the first two are particularly closely associated. Unfortunately, however, of their texts and commentaries there exist only the very old translation of Dhammasaṅgaṇī mentioned earlier, and a translation of its commentary, Aṭṭhasālinī, under the title, Expositor, by Prof. Pe Maung Tin. In order that occidental Abhidhamma scholarship should be brought more into the light of day, it is intended that following the publication of this present volume a re-translation of Dhammasaṅgaṇī should be made, so that there may be consistency of terminology between these two works, Then, if it is possible, a translation of the commentary on Vibhaṅga, Sammohavinodanī, will be done, to render complete this most important introductory collection of Abhidhamma works.

At the beginning of this introduction it was said that its form would be that of showing how Vibhaṅgapakaraṇa was a book for practical application, not just a work of psychological theory. If that impression has been conveyed, then it will have done what it set out to achieve. This is not to say that its very many shortcomings are not readily appreciated and sincerely regretted. The Commentaries and sub-Commentaries are in themselves very complete and highly informative volumes, leaving little to be desired in matters of explanation and example; they are, nevertheless, written on a basis already assuming the student to have considerable knowledge of the subject. The need, therefore, so far as the lay student is concerned is an introductory volume giving a foreground of knowledge before attempting the foothills and mountains of this most highly rewarding pair of Commentaries and their parent texts. It is therefore intended when the retranslating of Dhammasaṅgaṇī has been accomplished that a book of this sort, a combined guide book to Dhammasaṅgaṇī and Vibhaṅga, should be compiled. Such a work containing much fuller and more varied explanations than could ever have been included in this introduction, should be able to make it clear to those who are intent on probing what have so far been the somewhat hidden recesses of Abhidhamma studies, that it is not a cobweb-filled cupboard that is to be dealt with and cleaned out, [lxxi] but a live and lively exposition of the basic material of the Buddha's Teaching which will itself clear the cobwebs from the student's mind. Abhidhamma is not the storehouse of ancient, out-dated and out-moded ideas, it is the very practical exposition of the Buddha's own particular and unique discovery; the mechanics of "The Way Leading to the Cessation of Suffering".

Finally I should like to express my gratitude to my teacher, the translater of this work, also for the opportunity he has afforded me to write this introduction.

Yasmā hi dhammaṃ puriso vijaññā
indaṃva naṃ devatā pūjayeyya—

Sn. Dhammasutta


R.E. Iggleden

Waltham St. Lawrence, 1969