The Mystique of the Abhidhamma

Very interesting and thought provoking essay by Ven. Sujato.
In this thread, I like to discuss some points which interest me.
Please feel free to share your views.

Please keep in mid the following comment by Ven. Sujato during this discussion.

“1.This es­say is in­tended in a play­fully provoca­tive spirit. I hope it will be read the same way. It is philo­soph­i­cal rather than schol­arly, by which I mean I have not both­ered to check any ref­er­ences. Unless oth­er­wise spec­i­fied, I use the term ‘ab­hid­hamma’ to re­fer to the Theravada scholas­tic tra­di­tion in gen­eral rather than the Abhidhamma Piṭaka in par­tic­u­lar.”


Do you have the Pdf of this book?
Thx :pray:


You should tag Bhante @sujato too

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:grin: Please Bhante @sujato


No, there’s no PDF, I never got around to making one.

If this is only a question of lacking technique I could help. One can install a “pdf-printer” which lets you “print” any textdocument into pdf-format, which I do on a regular basis with text which I want to read repeatedly or on a regular basis.

@StevensonKho I have made a nice PDF of the article with LuaTex.

The_Mystique_of_the_Abhidhamma (1).pdf (157.5 KB)


Nice, thx! BTW, this was translated into German, so that’s fun!

I wrote this many years ago mainly to amuse myself. I hope it holds up!


My pleasure. :slightly_smiling_face:

Now that I have some practice, I should be able to convert essays pretty rapidly into PDFs. If you need PDFs for some of your essays, shoot me a message!


Anumodami for its writing.
Thanks @Robbie

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But the Buddha was not a butterfly collector


the abhidhammikas chose to sideline experience in deference to their theory

Reminds me of this recent NYBooks article on the modern “consciousness deniers”

What then is this mano? … ontological apartheid

The argument here is understanding “name” in a pre-verbal sense: rolling back “labeling” to signify the very basic level of object-recognition / signal processing performed by the senses and associative memory automatically. But this is an unnecessary level of specificity for the argument being made. Everyone seems to be agreeing that “namarupa” is pointing to the arising of duality. The only disagreement is where, precisely, we draw the boundary between the physical and mental, between subject and object, mind and body, etc. But whereever we draw that line, “reality” is clearly on the other side of that line from any “description” of it (obvious to everyone except them, including Abhidhamma descriptions).

To say all this is, of course, merely to rehash the early rejections of the Abhidhamma. Originally, the prajnaparamita stories were parodies making fun of the Abhidhammists (tongue-in-cheek comparing them to a happless Sariputa) exactly for “taking their jargon too seriously” etc. Of course, as happens with religious texts, humorous refutations were passed on, removed from their context, and eventually clung to as “ultimate expressions” themselves – despite their own insistence that any “Ultimate Expression” is an oxymoron! So while “ultimate reality” as an expression certainly became a misleading, polemical term, and the prajnaparamita became a whole genre of canonicalized word games, originally it was making the very same point as this essay. The essay would have been much stronger for nodding to its contemporaneous allies, and not unfairly painting the whole period with one, frustrated brush.

but I think all metaphysical theories absurd. But they were the norm in ancient times, and I fear the abhidhammikas were just following the flock

Not just in ancient times :joy:

‘Infinite Clear Light Non-dual Diamond Suffering’


phenomena come neatly labeled with their own name-tag – in Pali, of course.

sabhāvanirutti :roll_eyes: See! It even has a Pali name! It must be true! :joy:

a meditation system consisting in a labeling technique

If this is a cheap pot-shot at Mahasi I must take offense here. There’s nothing inherently silly about using a matra or mantra system to meditate. Mentally repeating words is, in fact, the prefered method in my own (Thai Forest) Tradition, and many other respected meditation schools. That techniques can be effective even if their doctrinal justifications are ludicrous should come as no surprise. In fact, as is so often the case, meditative effectiveness is likely why this silliness perseveres.

As long as the priest keeps the theory abstract enough that the followers do not really understand it – which is usually not so hard – the system works very well.


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“What would a moment of stasis be like? A strange world! One could certainly not see impermanence, any more than one can remember the moment one falls asleep. By definition, ending is the ending of awareness. Everything one could know, for the whole of one’s life, would be permanent. From the point of view of a mind-moment, existence would be identical with eternity. And that is a very remarkable conclusion for a theory whose purpose was to explain impermanence.”

Well said! :smile:

Their nature: to arise &; pass away.
They disband as they are arising.
Their total stilling is ’

Change (vaya) rather than Stasis is mentioned in the EBTs.