Is the Abhidhamma considered (a) fully canonical? (b) commentarial?
The Abhidhamma is canonical.
The oldest among abhidhamma is vibhanga which is a pali commentary like how nidessa is a commentary to sutta nipata both are canonical too
Thank you Ayya.
It is canonical. & therefore not commentarial? Are some early commentaries also considered canonical?
In Theravada perspective, Abhidhamma is canonical but not commentarial because it is believed taught by the Buddha himself in Tavatimsa Heaven. But Sarvastivada school consider their canonical Abhidharma texts come from the disciples like Sariputra, Maugalyayana, Mahakatyayana, etc. and are authorized by the Buddha himself, so they are canonical commentarial texts.
I think the confusion may arise in Early Buddhist Studies circles because EBT typically don’t consider Abhidhamma as reliable. So to EBT, the only “canonical” ones are the suttas which has parallels, and only those parts within the sutta which is found in the parallels, and the vinaya too with their parallels. Some may also go for earliest Suttas, so dismissing Jatakas etc.
If you’re asking for Theravada, yes Abhidhamma is canonical.
Commentaries are sort of solidified as part of the reliable texts too in Theravada, so the usage of canonical vs commentaries is not to mean reliable or not, it’s more of just definition, what’s said by the Buddha, what’s explained later on.
Things which are canonical in Theravāda:
Of these, the Niddesa is an example of a commentary (attributed to Ven. Sariputta) which is contained within the canon. Although the Abhidhamma is a later layer of text than the earlier portion of the sutta pitaka, we don’t normally talk about the Abhidhamma as being commentarial. The concept of a commentary is a text which follows another text closely, to explain details like the meaning and words, etc. The Abhidhamma doesn’t do that.
Things which are commentarial in Theravāda:
Ayya, you took some time effort to wash away a tiny bit of my ignorance. Thank you so much.
It doesn’t. It’s more of a synthesis. This definition of commentary feels graspable.
A key issue with Abhidhamma is that you will almost certainly need to refer to some commentary to make sense of it.
This is not necessarily the case with sutta and vinaya material which can be more practically or inspirationally interpreted and made sense of under key frameworks such as the gradual teaching, four noble truths, etc.
Not necessarily—definitely not “almost certainly” (might not need them at all if you have a good grasp of the Suttas).
Our understanding of many Pāḷi terms is directly due to the Commentaries (as well as exegetical works such as grammars, etc.), and many things in the Vinaya are explained in more detail there as well. When reading the English translations, those are partly based on the Commentaries and non-canonical works.
Please be aware that I’m outside of my subject area in posting this, but for the sake of a slightly more complete account…(ZOOM IN /CTRL+ TO VIEW IMAGE IN DETAIL).
The Abhidhamma is also canonical in all modern canons, but falls in the “section on treatises” in the Tibetan Tengyur.
In the Chinese canon, the Abhidharma is located in the canon. Many commentaries are also found within the supplementary materials collection of the Chinese canon, which is broader than how we think of the canon in Theravāda (more like a library). The Taisho tripitaka has 85 volumes.
In the Tibetan canon, the Abhidharma is located in the Tengyur, together with the treatises, commentaries and other texts. The Tengyur has about 220-250 volumes depending on the edition. The vinaya and sutra material is located in the Kangyur, which is three quarters Mahayana texts. The Kangyur has 101-120 volumes.
This is because the Tibetan canon divides the canon in the “section on the word of the Buddha” and the “section on treatises”.
Canonical is a good trace.
However, the content of Abhidhamma is a learning, well orchestrated, good collection for path seekers.
Example: The Bible may not be a Buddhist text, but the compassion taught by Lord Jesus is relevant and worthy of emulation by all treading the Noble Path.
The Buddha emphasized reflecting wisely when in the pursuit of the Dhamma.
If we go by the vinaya accounts of the first council, some like the Theravada leave out the Abhidhamma, while others include it as compiled along with the sutra and vinaya pitaka. The Sarvastivadins ascribed certain texts to direct disciples. So, it depends on the tradition as to whether it’s solidly canonical or not, I think. There seems to have been a period in Buddhist history when Abhidharma was studied more than the sutras were. It grew to include massive compilations of views, and was distilled into concise manuals. Then at some point later, it was largely set aside, as we see in some modern Theravada sensibilities.
So good to see informed comment about Abhidhamma. As a student of Abhidhamma (fortunate to have a teacher from Burma where Abhidhamma is revered) I am always gladdened to see it discussed as it is here. It is helpful and instructive.
Some sources also mention matrkas, but no Abhidhamma. Scholars like Frauwallner think that this was an early seed for the Abhiharmas/Abhidhamma.
Can someone direct me to an Audiobook of the Abhidhamma, in English (,and online)? I have been trying to find one but am unable. Preferably free to use.
If you have Abhidhamma texts which contains very little Pali, or you can manually delete/ replace the Pali terms with English, then you can use softwares like Dspeech (google it), to convert the text to audio file and listen to the books.
You can also leave the Pali words in it, the trouble is, the voice may not be able to pronounce them properly and if it is too frequent, the attention may not be able to sustain. Audiobook is a good way to force through the boring parts.
Thank you for the advice. I will consider it! Thank you .
I think you can use sutta central’s voice feature.
Having recently embarked on the journey of reading it, I’d suggest skipping to the “points of controversy” and then circle back to the other sections if your interest is still there.