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Philosophy and Psychology in the Abhidharma

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Item Code: NAC628
Author: Herbert V. Guenther
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788120807730
Pages: 280
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 Inch X 6.0 Inch
Weight 460 gm
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From the Jacket

Herbert V. Guenther was born in 1917. He took Ph.D. degree from the universities of Munich and Vienna. In 1950, he came to India to teach at Lucknow University and, in 1958, became Head of the Department of Comparative Philosophy and Buddhist Studies at the Sanskrit University in Varanasi. He was Head of the Department of Far Eastern Studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada in 1964. He published translations with commentary of several books on Tibetan Buddhism, most important among them being The Life and Teaching of Naropa.

The study of the Abhidharma is indispensable for understanding the history of Buddhist philosophy and practice. This book gives a synoptic view of the significance of the Abhidharma as presented by the Theravadins and brought to its climax by the Vaibhaikas and Yogcara-Vjnnavadins. It analyzes the concepts of Mind and its States with reference to healthy and unhealthy attitudes towards life and deals with the psychological factors and problems in Meditation which is geared to an individual’s capacity and temperament.

Theories of perception, a predominant feature of Indian and Buddhist philosophies, are discussed together with the interpretation of the world on the basis of these theories as well as their critiques.

The discussion of the Path as conceived by the various schools concludes this survey of the Abhidharma. Of particular significance are the accompanying tables of the structure of mind in Buddhist philosophy.


The title “Philosophy and Psychology in the Abhidharma” outlines the scope of this book. It attempts to deal with philosophy as the perennial quest for meaning and with psychology as the abstract understanding by which man is engaged in comprehending himself, as presented in the vast literature of the Abhidharma. It does not claim to deal with the whole of Abhidharma literature. Such an attempt would go far beyond the capacity of a single individual. Therefore only those topics which seem to have special significance have been selected. In restricting myself to a presentation of philosophical and psychological problems in the Abhidharma, I have chosen three authors of outstanding merit, each of them belonging to a different school of Buddhism. They are the author of the Aithasalini, who goes by the name of Buddhaghosa and who represents the Theravada view; Vasubandhu, author of the Abhidharma-kosa, examining and reviewing the Sarvastivada-Vaibhaika view from the Sautrantika standpoint; and Asanga, author of the Abhidharmasamuccaya, propounding the Vijnanavada (Yogacara) view. In connexion with them I have mentioned such details from other authors as have value on account of some illustrative quality. Even in imposing such a restriction upon myself had to compromise at every turn. I am fully aware of the fact that much would have deserved a more detailed treatment and that much more might have been included. Nevertheless I believe and hope that nothing of importance has been left out.

Since my primary interest has been philosophy and psychology, in dealing with the Abhidharma literature I have constantly tried to find out from the original texts what the authors themselves had to say and I have intentionally refrained from discussing opinions about the Abhidharma; these may be quite interesting (and sometimes highly amusing) as far as they reflect the attitudes of those learned men who have held them, but they are not the philosophy of the Abhidharma. I have always attempted to put what seems to me to be the fundamental meaning in modern terms and as plausible as possible. Any critique of the views of the various authors either follows the arguments of the criticizing rival school of Buddhism or is made from the forum of the Madhyamika philosophy which up to the present day has kept philosophy as a quest for meaning alive and has prevented this gigantic task from degenerating into spiritless formalism.

I have to thank my friend Joseph E. Cann, whose name appears on the dedication page, for his appreciative criticism of and constant interest in my work which owes its origin to his suggestion to write on Buddhist philosophy from a Buddhist point of view. Unfailing help and inspiration has been given me by my wife whom in particular I have to thank for the preparation of the index. My thanks are also due to Rev. G. Prajnananda, Resident Bhikshu of the Buddha Vihara, Lucknow, for his constant encouragement. Last not least, I am greatly indebted to Mrs. Irene B. Hudson, M.D., for her generosity which has made it possible that a book on philosophy as a guide to a way of life sees the light of the world which on the whole is prejudiced against philosophy because of some contemporary misconceptions about the nature and function of philosophy.


This book has been out of print for several years. As there has been a growing demand among scholars and students for a reprint, this is now being issued with the encouragement and at the instigation of Messrs. Motilal Banarsidass, the well-known publishing house of Indological studies. My sincere thanks are due to them.

In this edition I have not only corrected the many misprints of the first edition, but have also clarified points of importance by rephrasing or rewriting a number of paragraphs. The reprint, therefore, is virtually a new edition.


Abhidharma: Its Meaning and Scope
Throughout the varying phases of its historical development, Buddhist philosophy has unmistakably preserved certain traits which at the outset formed the very life force of Buddhist thought and which still vitally concern us as a truly spiritual force. These are the emphasis on immediate experience and the rejection of everything that might make us lose what is essential in our dealings with the problems of life. For by such a loss we are at once entangled in all sorts of speculations and arguments about something which has no longer any practical meaning for human life. The very fact that no amount of discursive reasoning will ever convey that which must be experienced within ourselves and which therefore is also known quite independently of logical method, may be gathered from the legendary history of the origin of the Abhidharma which the Buddha is said to have first revealed while residing in the heaven of the Tavatirhsa gods.’ ‘The world of gods’ and what is commonly called the ‘divine’ is essentially a symbolic expression of the fact that interest and attention have been drawn away from the surface of sensuous objects and have been directed toward the within, the background and source of all things. The ‘transcendency’ of the world of gods is due to the fact that our senses deliver only specific, limited and determinate data within something indeterminate and unlimited, which precisely because of its indeterminateness and of its going beyond the narrow scope of mere intellectual judgments is so emotionally moving, so spiritually quickening, that a deep sense of reverence for the sanctity of all that exists is instilled in us.

It is—as far as our mechanistic language devices allow depicting it—a heightened sense of reality. And that which leads to this heightened sense of reality, because the facts that are right here have been pointed out to us together with the possibilities and potentialities they offer in practical living and in the formation of character, is laid down in the Abhidharma. For this reason the author of the Atthasalini, who goes by the name of Buddhaghosa, informs us that “it is called Abhidharma, because it excels in and is distinguished by several qualities”? These excellent qualities which make the Abhidharma rank foremost in Buddhist literature, are, according to Asanga, four being face to face with the highest goal and the nature of Reality (abhimukha); the teaching of the necessary steps to be taken for the attainment of the goal and presenting them from various viewpoints (abhiksna); its standing above the petty controversies about the nature of Reality and its capacity to come to a definite answer (abhibhava); and penetration into the deeper import of the Buddha’s teachings (abhigati).

Indeed, it is through our contemplation and our taking in with one single glance the whole of the nature of things, that together with this heightened sense of reality a more intense emotional satisfaction and stability is achieved. As the author of the Atthasalini informs us: “Those who study the Abhidharma literature experience unending joy and serenity of mind”3. But while most men are content with merely looking at the surface of things and, instead of searching for the essence of things and thereby widening their horizon, confine themselves to the narrowest plane of meanness and prejudicedness, it is for those who want to rise above the level of the common place and above the limitations set up by mere reason and its standardized conventions, to look into the very essence of existence and of Reality. As a matter of fact, it was by thoroughly knowing the nature of things, not merely from the blinding glitter of the outer surface but from their illuminating glow from within, that the prince of the Sakya clan became The Buddha, The Enlightened One—”The Supremely Enlightened One was the first to know the Abhidharma. While sitting under the Bodhi-tree He penetrated the Abhidharma. He became The Buddha. - “i. Furthermore, “The Abhidharma is the sphere of the omniscient Buddhas, but not the sphere of others”.2 In other words, first we have to apprehend with immediacy and find the answer to the problems of life for ourselves, afterwards we may speak about that which we have seen and which we have found, if it should still be necessary to speak. Thus the Abhidharma, however dry its presentation in a highly technical language may appear to us at first sight, aims at nothing less than to open man’s eyes to that which is not speculatively arrived at by the logical method of hypothesis and deductive verification, but which can be immediately apprehended and is applicable to ourselves.


Preface vii
I. Introduction
Abhidharma: Its Meaning and Scope 1
II. Mind and Its States
The Importance of a Healthy Attitude 4
Perception and Apperception 15
Concomitant Function – Events in an Attitude I 30
Concomitant Function – Events in an Attitude II 48
Unhealthy Attitudes 88
Conclusion 95
III. Meditation
Worldliness and Gestaltung 97
The Differences in Temperament 101
The Totalities and Meditation 116
The Infinitudes126
Masteries and Freedoms 134
Conclusion 141
IV. The Interpretation of the World we Live in
The World as We Perceive It 144
The Interpretation of the Perceived World 163
Atoms and Structure 181
Conclusion 189
V. The Path
The Way Out 191
The Theravada Conception of the Path 195
The Vaibhasika Conception of the Path 215
The Vijnanavada Conception of the Path 233
Conclusion 246
VI. Index 249
VII. Tables A-F 261
**Contents and Sample Pages**

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