Abhidhamma: Buddha’s understanding of Psychology and Cosmology

Of the three baskets (Pali Tripitaka), Abhidhamma Pitak is considered as the tought one to understand. The Abhidhamma is technical and many times the concepts in the Abhidhamma are complex and difficult to crack for the uninitiated into the terms and practices of Buddhism, but the little patience and curiosity can yield a lot of knowledge and depth into Buddhist practices.

What is Abhidhamma?

This is the compilation of Buddha’s teachings on actual working of human mind originally taught as the matrices of various elements and the elements that forms the basic matrix are: citta, cetasika, rupa, and Nibbana. The discussion goes into such an analysis that the Buddha describes the moments of the citta that happens in fraction of seconds. The Buddha explained the processes of perceptions in such a vivid detail that approximates to the finding of modern studies on process of perceptions. The Abhidhamma literature is vast and the erudite scholars have added their insights into the “original matrices” taught by the Buddha. Most of the Buddhist philosophies that are developed in Buddhism have roots in Abhidhamma.

One of the interesting thing about Abhidhamma is precision in terms and language is used in the most precise way as one begins to understand the “terminologies” in the context of Abhidhammic psychology and Cosmology.

The beauty about the Buddha’s teaching is not only its characteristic of timelessness, but it holds true on the various scales of time. This time invariance is so essential feature of the Buddha’s teachings that in the universe of Abhidhamma, the time at the level of nanoseconds and time at the level of billions of years is travelled in the same breath. That’s why one must guard against the terms/language used in the various time scales and not confuse with different usages of the same terms in the various time scales.

Many of the confusions about many Buddhist terms can be dealt with if we bear in mind the use of terms in different time scales.

Kamma and Rebirth

Two such terms which often confuse the Buddhists and others are Kamma and Rebirth and study of the Abhidhamma can clear a lot of ground and confusion around these terms.

Karma and rebirth as psychological level:

Karma as we know at psychological level is a mental action (called intention) which operates from one citta moment to another. Citta in Abhidhamma is a dynamic entity as the micro level and just like the particle in Particle Physics cannot be pinned out and as there is a matrix of particles in the Particle Physics, the cittas form the matrix. The Buddha gave a list of 121 cittas. Then the group of cetasikas (the citta factors) always arise with Citta. This is interesting co-arising of the citta and cetasikas together. The knowledge of which can be very helpful to understand the dynamic realities that we all are. So at this level the Kamma is that dynamic which keeps citta move in wholesome (Kusala) and Unwholesome (akusala) direction. At the psychological level, it decides the direction of the cittas in either wholesome direction or Unwholesome direction.

Kamma can be understood by constructing the dynamic matrix of dynamic elements at the psychological (micro) level as the mental factor that sustains the directions of mind. At this level understanding the rebirth is not difficult, as we can understand the recurring patterns due to certain habits we have cultivated. The patterns are governed by the paticcasamuppada (that is why we have two aspects of paticcasamuppada). The paticcasamuppada shows what are the possibilities due to Karma at the psychological level.

Karma and rebirth at the cosmological level.

In Abhidhamma, various planes of existence are described and the descriptions of each of them can overwhelm us, but these planes of existence are correlated with the “citta”. This is the dynamic connection between what happens at nano time scales and what happens at immeasurable timescale.

In human existence, our citta (or sets and sequences of citta) have an unique plane of existence. But the citta, depending on its cultivation, can create different experiences of the planes of existence. Sometimes, the subtle planes/spheres of experiences can be experienced by training the cittas and hence the Abhidhamma also offers the training manual to experience the planes of existences. The Buddha taught that the mind can be purified and untainted mind can arise. This realisation of untainted mind is the mind that knows (the mind of the Buddha) and it is a nibbanic mind which cannot be described by any concept and do not dwell in planes of existences, it can pass freely through any plane of existence.

How do we think of rebirth then at the planes of existence?

As Nagasena told Milinda that there is no transmigration of soul (sankraman) but there is connection between this and that life.

The being born is neighter the same nor the different. (Na ca so, na ca pi anno). There is only a “mental” connection at the level of citta, this is called “patisandhi”. In Abhidhamma, the process at the time of death is explained in which the normal perceptual system based on the body and senses. The “patisandhi” citta takes the last object (and the technical process is explained). As such citta is inexpressible and we are talking about “patisandhi” citta, to make things further complicated. But to come back to the simile of Nagasena, just like the lamp lights another lamp, the patisandhi citta “lightens” another life. So, the possibilities of same being coming again and again is not possible, but continuation of that dynamic citta (let us call it energy) is possible. It is impersonal process and we do not own the dynamic functioning of citta, cetasika, and rupa, but constantly create the false notion of “self” and continue to think of “rebirth” in terms of “self” instead at the level of psychology (micro/nano time) and deep and limitless time of cosmology. Babasaheb Ambedkar interestingly defined Kamma as the “instrument of moral order”. The moral order whether it is positive or negative depends on the Kamma, in a sense of ethical action. So whether individual “self” dies or lives is immaterial from the Abhidhammic point of view, what matters is the continuing “striving” (Appamada) in the world.

The trap of language and terms can be avoided if we ourselves start looking into our realities through the techniques given by the Buddha without worrying about life and death (the arising and passing away) which is just one of the aspects of the dynamic reality at the psychological and cosmological level.

Disclaimer : Mangesh Dahiwale , Bahujan Scholar , is author of articles. Article captured from Mangesh Dahiwale’s Facebook Post.

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