(Last Updated on : 17/01/2011)
The catechism, that later was called 'abhidharma' in Sanskrit or 'abhidhamma' in Pali, is said to have been started by the direct pupils of Buddha. Abhidharma helps to penetrate through the knowledge of impermanence, impersonality, and insubstantiality. The very term may be related with the general sense of 'meditation about Dharma', instruction about Dharma' or 'discussion about Dharma'. In a more specific sense, 'abhidharma' means 'special Dharma', 'higher Dharma', or 'further Dharma'. The most technical use of the term 'abhidharma' has five aspects or meanings- to define dharmas, to ascertain the relationship between dharmas, to analyze dharmas, to classify dharmas, and to arrange dharmas in numerical order.
There are four Abhidharmas that is known to us. They are the Petakopadesa, the Sariputrabhidharmasastra, the Abhidhamma of the Theras of Sri Lanka, and the Abhidharma of the Sarvastivadins.
Now, one of the functions of Abhidharma is definition. It is important to successfully communicate about a rather technical subject. Buddhism is known as a religion. It is often called as a philosophy and in the recent years it has come to be known as a psychology. Philosophy, which originally means the love of wisdom and knowledge, is also the investigation of the laws or causes of all being. While discussing Abhidharma and Philosophy, it can be related with metaphysics and phenomenology. The former is the study of essences or, in simple terms, the study of things in them. Phenomenology, in contrast, is the description of things as the individual experiences them; it is the science of epistemology, the study of things, as they are known.
The Abhidharma is highly rational and logical. The beginning of Abhidharma is the science of intellect and it is the beginning of logical argument and analysis. It describes free of bondage of all theories and dogmas and the path of liberation.
Abhidharma, thus can be said as the pure and undiluted form of teaching. It states that mind is the most valuable thing we have. It describes that if one is able to see one's daily experience in terms of the conditioned, relative, and empty nature of the factors of experience, then one will see Dharma and through this Dharma, will be able to see Buddha and attain enlightenment.