Chapter 1 – Lesson 1
The Buddha, just prior to the 7th annual rains retreat (vas), i.e. 7 years after Enlightenment, ascended to the Tavatimsa heaven, to deliver the sermon on Abhidhamma to thousands of Devas and Brahmas who assembled there, from ten thousand world systems, including His mother, who was then born as a Deva in Thusita Heaven.
There, seated on the ‘Pandukambala’ stone seat of God Sakka, He preached the Abhidhamma, in detail, for a continuous period of 3 months. It was expounded to the heavenly beings, as it had to be explained to the same audience. No human being was able to listen for so long, in one stretch. The gods who listened to the Buddha then, will be living even today, as their life span is much longer than for human beings.
Note: In Tavatimsa heaven, the life span is 1000 Celestial years. 1 day in Tavatimsa heaven is equal to 100 years in the human plane
Buddha returned to this world, every day during that period, to the shore of Anottatta lake in North India, to take his meals, and to attend to other necessary daily requirements. Ven. Arahat Sariputta, went there to meet the Buddha daily, to attend on him. He was the most intelligent of all the Arahats and was known as Dhamma Senadhipati. At that time the Buddha, gave Ven. Sariputta, a gist of the Abhidhamma, that he had preached to the gods on the previous day.
Ven. Sariputta, taught, in detail, what he learned to his 500 odd pupils. Those pupils in turn taught the other monks, and ultimately most of the monks at that time learned the Abhidhamma. which is the Special and Higher teaching of all Buddha’s.
At the first council, the Dhamma and Vinaya were rehearsed. Dhamma included the Sutta and Abhidhamma. As writing was not prevalent at that time, the dhamma were preserved verbally and handed down from teacher to pupil. This is known as oral tradition. For the first time, the Tipitaka was written down at Aluvihara in Sri Lanka at the 4th Council.
All the monks who participated at the 1st Council were arahats, with Catu-patisambidha knowledge. Catu-Patisambhida means 4 special Analytical Knowledge, namely
- Attha, – analysis of meanings, cause
- Dhamma, – of reasons, conditions, or causal relations
- Nirutti – Language
- Patibhana, – intellect to which things knowable by the foregoing processes are presented
The arahats rehearsed and preserved the Dhamma and Vinaya at the councils. Hence there is no doubt that the original Dhamma preached by the Buddha is available up to date, in the Theravada Tipitaka.
The 1st Council ‘Sangayana’ was held 3 months after Parinibbana. The Buddha’s teachings were divided into 3 sections called the Tipitaka, which consists of Vinaya, Sutta and Abhidhamma. The 3 Pitaka were compiled, examined and approved by the 500 Arahats who assembled there.
Vinaya Pitaka is a comprehensive code of monastic discipline, including the 227 rules and regulations for Bhikkhus and 304 for Bhikkhunis promulgated by the Buddha. The Sutta Pitaka is a collection of the summaries of the important discourses given by the Buddha, delivered to different beings at different places. The Suttas were explained at the first council by Ven. Arahat Ananda, Treasurer of the Dhamma. They were codified and the Sutta Pitaka was compiled.
There was nothing to examine in Abhidhamma as it was preached direct to Ven. Sariputta. It was explained in detail by Ven. Sariputta to his 500 odd pupils. They explained what was taught to them to the other monks. All the senior monks, that assembled were Patisambidha Arahats. They new the Abhidhamma. It was recited at the Councils (Sangithi) and approved.
Cullavagga, which is a part of the Vinaya Pitaka states in the Udana (index) to Chapter X1, that ‘the Three Pitakas were recited at the 1st council, (Pitaka tini sangitm akamsu ) The 3 Pitakas include the Abhidhamma Pitaka. This is clear evidence that Abhidhama Pitaka was recited at the 1st Council
The 3rd Council, was held during the reign of Emperor Asoka. It was presided by Ven. Arahat Moggaliputta Tissa Thera. After the 3rd Council, the book called Kathavattu was compiled by Ven Moggaliputtatissa Thera and added to the Abhidhamma Pitaka. This book is a record of the incorrect views and controversies that were corrected at the Council.
During the 4th week after Enlightenment, the Buddha was contemplating on the Dhamma, seated in a place called ‘Ratanagara’ located in the vicinity of the Bodhi tree,. When contemplating on the Patthana, the 24 conditional relations of Cause and Effect, coloured rays started to emanate from His body for the first time. The Patthana is explained only in the Abhidhamma. It is the last book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka.
Some western writers on Buddhism were of the view that Abhidhamma is a later addition and was included into the Tipitaka at the 3rd Council. The above facts indicate that Abhidhamma originated from The Buddha and was not compiled after the 2nd Council by some erudite Monks. Anyone who studies Abhidhamma will realize that no one except a Samma Sambuddha will be able to explain the details of Mind and Matter, the Law of Causation etc. in such accuracy and detail.
Prepared by Panduka Mahanama, former Abhidhamma teacher, Sambhodhi English Dhamma School, Gregory’s Road, Colombo 7. Sri Lanka.