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Buddhism, Ābhidharmika schools of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F004-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

During the first centuries after the Buddha, with the development of a settled life of scholarly study and religious practice, distinct schools began to emerge within the Buddhist community. In their efforts to organize and understand the Buddha’s traditional teachings, these schools developed a new genre of text, called ‘Abhidharma’, to express their doctrinal interpretations. More importantly, the term ‘Abhidharma’ was also used to refer to the discriminating insight that was not only requisite for the elucidation of doctrine but also indispensable for religious practice: only insight allows one to isolate and remove the causes of suffering.

Abhidharma analysis is innovative in both form and content. While earlier Buddhist discourses were colloquial, using simile and anecdotes, Abhidharma texts were in a highly regimented style, using technical language, intricate definitions and complex classifications. The Abhidharma genre also promoted a method of textual exegesis combining scriptural citation and reasoned arguments.

In content, the hallmark of Abhidharma is its exhaustive classification of all factors that were thought to constitute experience. Different schools proposed different classifications; for example, one school proposed a system of seventy-five distinct factors classified into five groups, including material form, the mind, mental factors, factors dissociated from material form and mind, and unconditioned factors. These differences led to heated doctrinal debates, the most serious of which concerned the manner of existence of the individual factors and the modes of their conditioning interaction. For example, do the factors actually exist as real entities or do they exist merely as provisional designations? Is conditioning interaction always successive or can cause and effect be simultaneous in the same moment? Other major topics of debate included differing models for mental processes, especially perception.

Citing this article:
Cox, Collett. Buddhism, Ābhidharmika schools of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F004-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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