A Manual of Abhidhamma
Edited In The
Original Pàli Text With English
Translation And Explanatory Notes
By Nàrada Mahà Thera,
Published By the Buddhist Missionary Society
About this book
Abhidhamma is the Higher Teaching of the Buddha, some-
times referred to as the ultimate teaching (paramattha
desanà). In it, man is described as a psycho-physical being
consisting of both mind and matter, and it gives a micro-
scopic analysis of the human being.
Abhidhamma explains the process of birth and death
in detail. In addition to defining consciousness, it also
analyses and classifies thoughts mainly from an ethical
standpoint. Various types of consciousness are also set
forth in detail, as they arise through the six sense-doors.
Modern psychology has begun to acknowledge that it
comes within the scope of Abhidhamma for the reason that
it deals with the mind, with thoughts, thought-processes,
and mental states. Buddhism has, from the very beginning,
taught psychology without a psyche.
Abhidhamma also helps the student of Buddhism to
fully comprehend the Anatta (No-Soul) doctrine which
forms the crux of Buddhism. To a person who reads this
book in a superficial manner, Abhidhamma appears as dry
as dust, but to the wise truth-seekers, it is an indispensable
guide as well as an intellectual treat. The reader who reads
this book with deep thinking cannot fail to find it with
plenty of food for thought and which will help him tremen-
dously to increase his wisdom so essential for leading an
ideal Buddhist way of life, and the realization of Ultimate
The Author, the late Venerable Nàrada Mahà Thera,
was a well-known Buddhist Missionary from Sri Lanka
who had written many valuable Buddhist publications,
among which is “A Manual of Buddhism”, a grasp of which
is imperative prior to the reader commencing his study of
“A Manual of Abhidhamma”.
Abhidhamma, as the term implies, is the Higher Teaching
of the Buddha. It expounds the quintessence of His pro-
The Dhamma, embodied in the Sutta Piñaka, is the
conventional teaching (vohàra desanà), and the Abhi-
dhamma is the ultimate teaching (paramattha desanà).
In the Abhidhamma both mind and matter, which
constitute this complex machinery of man, are microscop-
ically analysed. Chief events connected with the process of
birth and death are explained in detail. Intricate points of
the Dhamma are clarified. The Path of Emancipation is set
forth in clear terms.
Modern Psychology, limited as it is, comes within the
scope of Abhidhamma inasmuch as it deals with the mind,
with thoughts, thought-processes, and mental states, but it
does not admit of a psyche or a soul. Buddhism teaches a
psychology without a psyche.
It one were to read the Abhidhamma as a modern
textbook on psychology, one would be disappointed. No
attempt has here been made to solve all the problems that
confront a modern psychologist.
Consciousness is defined. Thoughts are analysed and
classified chiefly from an ethical standpoint All mental
states are enumerated. The composition of each type of
consciousness is set forth in detail. The description of
thought-processes that arise through the five sense doors
and the mind-door is extremely interesting. Such a clear
exposition of thought-processes cannot be found in any
other psychological treatise.
Bhavaïga and Javana thought-moments, which are
explained only in the Abhidhamma, and which have no
parallel in modern psychology, are of special interest to a
research student in psychology.
That consciousness flows like a stream, a view pro-
pounded by some modern psychologists like William
James, becomes extremely clear to one who understands
the Abhidhamma. It must be added that an Abhidhamma
student can fully comprehend the Anattà (No-soul) doc-
trine, the crux of Buddhism, which is important both from
a philosophical and an ethical standpoint.
The advent of death, process of rebirth in various
planes without anything to pass from one life to another,
the evidentially verifiable doctrine of Kamma and Rebirth
are fully explained.
Giving a wealth of details about mind, Abhidhamma
discusses the second factor of man-matter or råpa. Funda-
mental units of matter, material forces, properties of mat-
ter, source of matter, relationship of mind and matter, are
In the Abhidhammattha Saïgaha there is a brief
exposition of the Law of Dependent Origination, followed
by a descriptive account of the Causal Relations which
finds no parallel in any other philosophy.
A physicist should not delve into Abhidhamma to get
a thorough knowledge of physics.
It should be made clear that Abhidhamma does not
attempt to give a systematised knowledge of mind and
matter. It investigates these two composite factors of so-
called being to help the understanding of things as they
truly are. A philosophy has been developed on these lines.
Based on that philosophy an ethical system has been
evolved to realise the ultimate goal, Nibbàna.
As Mrs. Rhys Davids rightly says, Abhidhamma deals
with “(1) What we find (a) within us (b) around us and of
(2) what we aspire to find.”
In Abhidhamma all irrelevant problems that interest
students and scholars, but having no relation to one’s
Deliverance, are deliberately set aside.
The Abhidhammattha Saïgaha, the authorship of
which is attributed to venerable Anuruddha Thera, an
Indian monk of Kanjeevaram (Kà¤cipura), gives an epit-
ome of the entire Abhidhamma Piñaka. It is still the most
fitting introduction to Abhidhamma. By mastering this
book, a general knowledge of Abhidhamma may easily be
To be a master of Abhidhamma all the seven books,
together with commentaries and sub-commentaries, have
to be read and re-read patiently and critically.
Abhidhamma is not a subject of fleeting interest
designed for the superficial reader.
To the wise truth-seekers, Abhidhamma is an indis-
pensable guide and an intellectual treat. Here there is food
for thought to original thinkers and to earnest students
who wish to increase their wisdom and lead an ideal Bud-
However, to the superficial, Abhidhamma must appear
as dry as dust.
It may be questioned, “Is Abhidhamma absolutely
essential to realise Nibbàna, the summum bonum of ‘Bud-
dhism,’ or even to comprehend things as they truly are?”
Undoubtedly Abhidhamma is extremely helpful to
comprehend fully the word of the Buddha and realise Nib-
bàna, as it presents a key to open the door of reality. It
deals with realities and a practical way of noble living,
based on the experience of those who have understood
and realised. Without a knowledge of the Abhidhamma
one at times finds it difficult to understand the real signif-
icance of some profound teachings of the Buddha. To
develop Insight (Vipassanà) Abhidhamma is certainly very
But one cannot positively assert that Abhidhamma is
absolutely necessary to gain one’s Deliverance.
Understanding or realisation is purely personal
(sandiññhika). The four Noble Truths that form the founda-
tion of the Buddha’s teaching are dependent on this one-
fathom body. The Dhamma is not apart from oneself. Look
within. Seek thyself. Lo, the truth will unfold itself.
Did not sorrow-afflicted Pañàcàrà, who lost her dear
and near ones, realise Nibbàna, reflecting on the disap-
pearance of water that washed her feet?
Did not Cåëapanthaka, who could not memorise a
verse even for four months, attain Arahantship, by com-
prehending the impermanent nature of a clean handker-
chief which he was handling, gazing at the sun?
Did not Upatissa, later Venerable Sàriputta Thera,
realise Nibbàna, on hearing half a stanza relating to cause
To some a fallen withered leaf had alone been suffi-
cient to attain Pacceka Buddhahood.
It was mindfulness on respiration (ànàpàna sati) that
acted as the basis for the Bodhisatta to attain Buddhahood.
To profound thinkers, a slight indication is sufficient
to discover great truths.
According to some scholars, Abhidhamma is not a
teaching of the Buddha, but is a later elaboration of scho-
Tradition, however, attributes the nucleus of the
Abhidhamma to the Buddha Himself.
Commentators state that the Buddha, as a mark of
gratitude to His mother who was born in a celestial plane,
preached the Abhidhamma to His mother Deva and others
continuously for three months. The principal topics
(màtikà) of the advanced teaching such as moral states
(kusalà dhammà), immoral states (akusalà dhamma) and-
indeterminate states (abyàkatà dhammà), etc., were
taught by the Buddha to Venerable Sàriputta Thera, who
subsequently elaborated them in the six books (Kathà-
vatthu being excluded) that comprise the Abhidhamma
Whoever the great author or authors of the Abhi-
dhamma may have been, it has to be admitted that he or
they had intellectual genius comparable only to that of the
Buddha. This is evident from the intricate and subtle
Paññhàna Pakaraõa which minutely describes the various
It is very difficult to suggest an appropriate English
equivalent for Abhidhamma.
There are many technical terms, too, in Abhidhamma
which cannot be rendered into English so as to convey
their exact connotation. Some English equivalents such as
consciousness, will, volition, intellect, perception are used
in a specific sense in Western Philosophy. Readers should
try to understand in what sense these technical terms are
employed in Abhidhamma. To avoid any misunderstand-
ing, due to preconceived views, Pàli words, though at
times cumbersome to those not acquainted with the lan-
guage, have judiciously been retained wherever the
English renderings seem to be inadequate. To convey the
correct meaning implied by the Pàli terms, the etymology
has been given in many instances.
At times Pàli technical terms have been used in pre-
ference to English renderings so that the reader may be
acquainted with them and not get confused with English
Sometimes readers will come across unusual words
such as corruption, defilements, volitional activities, func-
tionals, resultants, and so forth, which are of great signifi-
cance from an Abhidhamma standpoint. Their exct mean-
ing should be clearly understood.
In preparing this translation, Buddhist Psychology by
Mrs. Rhys Davids and the Compendium of Philosophy
(Abhidhammattha Saïgaha) by Mr. Shwe Zan Aung proved
extremely helpful to me. Liberty has been taken to quote
them wherever necessary with due acknowledgement.
My grateful thanks are due to the Buddhist Publica-
tion Society, Kandy for volunteering to publish this second
11. 5. 1968/2512.