The text ‘A Manual of Buddhist Philosophy’ by William Montgomery McGovern is an important text, which deals with the philosophical and
psychological aspect of Buddhism presented in the different Abhidharic texts of the different schools of Buddhism. In addition to introduction,
the text is divided into three parts named as Cosmic Synthesis, Cosmic Analysis, and Cosmic Dynamics.
In the Introduction of the text, the author has discussed in brief, the gradual development of Buddhist Philosophy on Cosmology as well as the
three Cosmological School, he Theravada, the Sarvastivada, and the Yogacara. The first two schools belong to the Hinayana tradition of
Buddhism while the third represent the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. Besides presenting the view of these schools in respect of the
Dharma, the author has also depicted the sources of references, which substantiate the divergent Dharma related doctrines.
The first part of the book ‘Cosmic Synthesis’ deal with the method of computation of size, distance, and period of times in addition to Comic
Geography. While dealing with Cosmic Geography the world systems and its foundation and classification, the four Great Continents, Buddhist
Astronomy, the divisions of the dhatus into Artipa dhatu, Rupa-dhatu and kama dhatu, Buddha Ksetra, and the word of Sentient Beings and its
different aspect have been enumerated.
The second part of the text ‘Cosmic Analysis’ describes the various notions in respect of Dharma, the component
parts of the phenomena and noumena. It presents the classifications of Dharma under various heads in two ways; subjective and objective. The
description of Dharmas in this part is not confined to one or two schools of Buddhist rather in incorporates the views of all three schools, which
formulated with regard to cosmic analysis.
The third part of the text ‘Cosmic Dynamics’ deals with those Dharmas which act as conditions factors of the Dharmas, which constitute
Buddhist Cosmology. In order to this it deals with the nature and scope of Causality, universality of causal law, application of causal law, the law
of causality applied to the individual i.e. chain of causation, certain aspects of Karmic law and conditions.
In short, it may be said that the text primarily not only deal with dharms or the lists of factors, enumerated by the different Buddhist cosmological
schools but it also presents the principal method of classifying the dharms, and their characteristics, and their relationship to what we generally
know about the teaching of the Buddha.
It would not be out of context of mention here that the analysis of dharmas, later termed as Abhidharma has been held in high esteem throughout
the history of Buddhism. In the Theravada tradition the Abhidharma is spoken of in terms of praise and special regard. There the Abhidharma is
the special domain of the Buddha and elder monks; novices are even asked not to interrupt the Elders when they are engaged in a discussion
of the Abhidharma. It recommends the study of the Abhidharma only for those who sincerely strive to realize the goal of Buddhism. It is also
recommended that the knowledge of it is must for the teachers of the Dharma. The History of Buddhism also reveals that the Abhidharma is
found not only in the Theravada tradition but in other major Buddhist traditions as well. For instance, Kumarajiva, the great Central Asian
translator renowned for his translation of Madhymaka works into Chinese, is said to have firmly believed that he must introduce the Abhidharma
to the Chinese if he wished to teach them Buddhist philosophy. In the Tibetan tradition, also, the Abhidharma is an important part of monastic
This shows that the Abhidharma is held in high esteem in Buddhist tradition. The basic reason behind it is that the knowledge of the
Abhidharma, in the general sense of understanding the ultimate truth, is absolutely necessary to achieve wisdom, which is in turn necessary to
achieve freedom. No matter how long one meditates or how virtuous a life one leads, without insight into the real nature of things, one cannot
achieve freedom. And it is the Abhidharma, which enables one to penetrate into the intrinsic nature of a thing.
The knowledge of the Abhidharma is necessary in order to apply the insight into impermanence, suffering, impersonality, and insubstantiality
about which we know from the reading of the Sutra Pitaka to every experience of daily life. All of us may glimpse impermanence, impersonality,
and insubstantiality through reading the Sutra-Pitaka, but we hardly apply that momentary knowledge in our daily life. But the study of
Abhidharma provides a mechanism for doing so. The Abhidharma provides this mechanism in five ways, such as, by defining the dharms, by
ascertaining the relationship between the dharms, by analyzing the dharmas, by classifying dharmas, and by arranging dharmas in sequential
order. The study of the Abhidharma is, there extremely useful for our practice. Keeping such usefulness of the study of the Abhidharma, which
forms the main them of the present text as well as curriculum’s of the different courses of the different universities, I consider it necessary to
publish it with slight expedient modifications.
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Sacred Sites (102)
Tantric Buddhism (84)
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