Academia – Religion

What is Abhidhamma?

By Abby Pittman


The Abhidamma is the deep doctrine of the Buddhist practice. The doctrine contains profound moral psychology and philosophy of the Buddha’s teaching, this knowledge allows for a disciplined mind and positive karma. Mental factors, Citta, and Kamma best represent the Abhidhamma as a whole, though they all flow into one another. It is the mind that moves on to the next life, and it is the mental factors that create the quality of the mind. The mental factors are what create a wholesome or unwholesome mind—or Citta, and what happens with the Citta is what creates positive or negative Kamma. This process, this chain reaction is what Abhidamma is— all of these components compiled into one person, into one society and into one world creates this philosophy of Abhidamma, where all is connected and each life leads into the next.

Everything starts with the mental factors. Mental factors are what shape the Citta, which is what creates positive or negative Kamma, “Mental factors associate with the mind induce it to become good or evil,” (Mental Factors, 1). There are seven kinds of universal mental factors, and fourteen positive mental factors and fourteen negative mental factors. Unwholesome mental factors, which hinder the ability to achieve Nibbāna, are things such as Moha (delusion), Ahirika (shameless), Lobha (greed) and more. For example, Moha is delusion; “the moha, which prevents realization of anicca, dukkha, anattā nature of mind and matter the Four Noble Truth, and the Law of Dependent Origination,” (Mental Factors, 2). These unwholesome mental factors create a negative consciousness, which leads to negative Kamma. On the reverse side there are wholesome mental factors, “these fourteen good mental factors protect one from evil and enhances the mind to be pure and wholesome,” (Mental Factors II, 1). For example, Saddha means faith. Faith in Kamma and its result, so faith in Kamma forces one to have a wholesome mind because of that knowledge of Kamma and knowledge that your actions and thoughts determine your next life as well as your ability to achieve Nibbāna. Other examples of wholesome mental factors are Samma Vaca (right speech), Amoha (non-deluded, wisdom) Mettā (loving-kindness) and more. Mental factors determine whether a person has a wholesome or unwholesome Citta.

According to the Dhammapada Pali, the mind can travel far, and it wanders alone. The mind is a very literal thing, meaning its purpose is to take in objects through the sense organs. “According to Abhidhamma, one is in contact with disagreeable senses on account of one’s own past unwholesome deed and at these instances unwholesome resultant consciousness will arise in the cognition process,” (Mind, 5). There are four classes of Cittas, or four spheres. There is the consciousness mostly experienced in the sense sphere, consciousness mostly experiences in the fine material sphere, consciousness mostly experienced in the immaterial sphere, and consciousness experienced in the supra-mundane or transcendental sphere. In each, there are positive and negatives. There are immoral consciousnesses, rootless consciousnesses, as well as beautiful consciousnesses. For example, “a person who is having doubt about kamma and its effect will have a consciousness rooted in hatred,” (Mind, 3), and will be unable to achieve to fulfill abhidhamma. “There are only two types of cittas which bear kamma seeds and will give rise to kamma results. They are Immoral consciousness and Beautiful consciousness. Thus if we can control our mind to be free from the influence of greed, hatred and delusion, we will have beautiful consciousness,” (Mind, 7). This, along with positive mental factors creates positive kamma and will eventually lead to Nibbāna. For example, when people are wicked, they will not bring wholesome benefits, “thus out of fear of getting unwholesome consequences they should reform their minds and become pure, honest and noble,” (Paramattha, The Ultimates And Citta, 6). Impure minds lead to negative Kamma, but a wholesome mind, with wholesome mental factors leads to positive Kamma.

What both mental factors and Citta has in common is both result in Kamma. “Kamma means action or deed. Kamma is of three kinds: thought, word and physical action,” (Kamma I, 1). There is mental kamma, which does not include physical action, but is instead focused on the thoughts. “Mental culture brings peace to others and inspires them to practice the Dhamma,” (Kamma I, 2). This creates positive kamma, which follows you on to your next life. However, there is also negative Kamma. “The kammic forces follow in hot pursuit all along till the time of death. Even after death the forces of kamma continue to have effect on the next life. These latent forces follow on to the embryonic stage of the next life, and so on to yet another existence,” (Kamma I, 5). With negative kamma, it is impossible to achieve Nibbāna, and impossible to continue onto the path of the Abhidhamma. Though kamma is just a result of the action, it is still and important part of the equation of how to achieve Nibbāna, and stay on the path of Dhamma.

Mental factors, Citta and Kamma all push each other forward. The quality of mind and the wholesome or unwholesome mental factors are an explanation of the mind that moves on throughout this life as well as the next life. So the quality of the mind and the mental factors result in positive or negative Kamma, which is what determines the path to enlightenment. A wholesome mind will get achieve Nibbāna much quicker than an unwholesome one, if an unwholesome one can even achieve Nibbāna. This is abhidhamma: the path to enlightenment, and how each individual factor leads into one another, creating a journey of Dhamma.


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