[Buddha-l] Ariyapariyesana

L.S. Cousins selwyn at ntlworld.com
Wed Nov 9 11:47:53 MST 2011

On 09/11/2011 00:28, Dan Lusthaus wrote:
> Moving on to the Mahāgosiṅga sutta (MN 32), in which the term "abhidhamma"
> occurs, let's quickly examine what the "anachronism" suggests:
> We find these passages in the sutta:
> "Idhāvuso sāriputta dve bhikkhū abhidhammakathaṃ kathenti.Tasmā āraññakena
> bhikkhunā abhidhamme abhivinaye yogo karaṇīyo..."
I would translate (rather literally):
In this connexion, good Sāriputta, two monks were holding a discussion 
about the dhamma. Therefore a forest monk should make effort about the 
dhamma and about the discipline.

It is precisely because scholars do not think that such passages refer 
to abhidhamma in the later sense that they date the abhidhamma 
literature as late. (There are other reasons too, of course.)

> The sutta recounts several monks -- Sariputta with Mahamoggallana,
> Mahakassapa, Anuruddha, Revata, and Ananda -- having a discussion. Each is
> characterized by what he exemplifies, i.e., what he is exemplary quality.
> Anuruddha's is divine eye, Mahakassapa exemplifies good behavior, etc.
> Mahamoggallana, who is more typically characterized in the Nikayas as
> excelling in the so-called superpowers, is in this sutta characterized as
> excelling in "Abhidhamma talk" (the Pali passage given above). Analayo notes
> (p. 210), ""This discourse has three Chinese parallels,two of which are
> found in the Madhyama-agama and in the Ekottarika-agama, while the third
> parallel is an individual translation." Comparing, he finds that the
> Madhyama Agama, like the Majjhima Nikaya version, characterizes Moggallana
> as exemplary in "Abhidharma talk," whereas the Ekottara Agama and the
> "individual translation" assign him "supernormal powers" instead. How would
> anyone pretend to date any of these earlier or later on that basis? Two
> versions of the story, one giving Moggallana his usual standout quality, the
> other giving him one that is "anachronistic" for Nikaya literature, which is
> presumed to predate abhidharma texts.
I would be happy to conclude that the introduction of the more standard 
attribution of supernormal powers is surely a later development. There 
is no mention of abhidharma texts here. The general principle of maxim 
lectio difficilior potior applies.

> Another MN sutta in which the word "abhidhamma" occurs is Gulissāni suttaṃ
> (MN 69):
> Āraññakena'hāvuso bhikkhunā abhidhamme abhivinaye yogo karaṇīyo. Santāvuso
> āraññakaṃ bhikkhuṃ abhidhamme abhivinaye pañhaṃ pucchitāro. Sace āvuso
> āraññako bhikkhu abhidhamme abhivinaye pañhaṃ puṭṭho na sampāyati, tassa
> bhavanti vattāro: kimpanimassāyasmato āraññakassa ekassāraññe serivihārena,
> yo ayamāyasmā abhidhamme abhivinaye pañhaṃ puṭṭho na sampāyatī'tissa
> bhavanti vattāro...
> Here is how Nanamoli&  Bh. Bodhi translate this, p. 575:
> "A forest-dwelling bhikkhu should apply himself to the higher Dhamma and the
> Higher Discipline. If he does not apply himself to the higher Dhamma and the
> higher Discipline, there will be those who would say of him: 'What has this
> venerable forest-dweller gained by his dwelling alone in the forest, doing
> as he likes, since he does not apply himself to the higher Dhamma and higher
> Discipline?..."
> In a note to the passage, they cite the commentaries which take this as
> referring to studying the abhidhamma literature, and acknowledge this is
> "anachronistic" [their term]. They then point us to another note [#362] that
> states: "Though the word cannot refer here to the Pitaka of that name -
> obviously the product of phase of Buddhist thought later than the Nikayas -
> it may well indicate a systematic and analytical approach to the
> doctrine..." and then refer the reader to Watanabe's well-known study on
> Philosophy in the Nikayas and Abhidhamma. This historical observation,
> however, reflects modern, not premodern sensibilities, for whom the
> composition of the abhidhamma canon was contemporary with the formation of
> the other two pitakas, and according to some, was taught by the Buddha
> himself.

I would translate this differently again. The usage of abhi- here in a 
prepositional compound in the locative was pointed out long ago (by 
Geiger, I think).

Of course, already in the later canonical works it was abstracted as a 
term meaning some kind of 'higher or further dhamma', not necessarily 
yet the abhidhamma literature we know.


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