THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE ABHIDHAMMA STUDIES IN MYANMAR

THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE ABHIDHAMMA STUDIES IN MYANMAR[1]

Ven. U Kosalla, Dean of the Faculty of Pariyatti, International Theravâda Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, Myanmar

Introduction

Myanmar is late to be familiar with Abhidhamma, but fast in cultivating on her soil. Brought to Thaton, Lower Myanmar, according to the Mon history, in the 5th Century AD, it flourished there for five hundred years. Later, it was brought to Bagan, Upper Myanmar, where it has grew regularly up to the close of Inwa Period(1363-1733AD).

The Study of Abhidhamma during the lifetime of the Buddha.

The 500 disciples of the Venerable Sâriputta were the first to learn the Abhidhamma.[2]The Buddha is said to teach the Abhidhamma at the age of 38, during his seventh rainy retreat, in Tâvatimsa divine world, to the great assembly of deities. Thus the development of the Abhidhamma tradition is undoubtedly magnificent.

Abhidhamma and the three Buddhist Councils

The 500 Arahants presided by the Venerable Mahâkassapa held the First Buddhist Council with the support of king Ajâtasattu in Râjagaha three months and four days after the Buddha passed away. Here, in the Buddhist Council (Saàgayana), Abhidhamma Piíaka was also included along with the Vinaya and Suttanta. This is mentioned in some commentaries and religious books.[3]

The Second Buddhist Council

When the Sâsana reached 100 years, 700 Arahants headed by the Venerable Mahâyasa held the Second Saàgayana in Vesâli with the support of the King Kâlâsoka. There were no peculiarities about the Abhidhamma. The version of the Texts in the First Buddhist Council was re-approved or re-affirmed.

The Third Buddhist Council

In 235 Sâsana Era, a thousand Arahants headed by Moggaliputta-Tissa Thera convened the Third Buddhist Council.[4] The Thera (Elder), being the head of the Council, preached the Kathâvatthu treatise elaborating on the brief points of Abhidhamma. Thereupon, the Abhidhamma-Piíaka reached its completeness and became seven books.

Dispatching the missionary teams to the nine countries

After the Third Buddhist Council, King Asoka, at the suggestion of the venerable Moggaliputta-Tissa Thera, sent monks to nine countries on missionary work. The three Piíakas were also undoubtedly carried by these missionaries. Thus since that time the Abhidhamma-Piíaka might have spread to these countries. There are no authentic records of the spread in other regions except Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). We mention here the development of the Abhidhamma in Ceylon because of its  long and close relationship with Myanmar.

The Advent / Arrival of Abhidhamma in Sri Lanka

Soon after the Third Buddhist Council, in 236 SâsanaEra(BC 326), the Venerable Mahinda left Pataliputta for Ceylon (Sri Lanka) as a missionary. Since that time the teachings of the Buddha got firmly rooted in that country, and the Ceylonese monks had a great opportunity to learn the Tipiíaka including the Abhidhamma. Thus, the Abhidhamma thrived in Ceylon. However, up to that time, according to tradition, the Pâéi Scriptures including the Abhidhamma were committed to memory.

The Fourth Buddhist Council

In (94-BC) 450 SE., during the reign of king Vattagâmani, many elders headed by Mahâdhammarakkhita Thera wrote down the complete Pâéi Scriptures on palm-leaves in Aloka Cave in Mitula village in Sri Lanka. Five hundred Arahants supervised and edited the work. Therefore, this business of writing the Pâéi Canon on palm-leaves was acknowledged by the religious treatises as the Fourth Buddhist Council. After this Council, the seven Abhidhamma books were recorded on palm leaves.

The Development of the Abhidhamma Studies

When the teachings of the Buddha first arrived in Sri Lanka, the resident monks believed, "Vinaya is the life-blood of the Sâsana" and stressed the learning of the Vinaya. Only when this was firmly rooted they turned their attention towards the studies of the profound Abhidhamma. Thus, after the 500 years after the Buddha, the study of Abhidhamma prevailed, and many Abhidhamma compilers emerged.

Venerable Buddhaghosa

Venerable Buddhaghosa was one of the first and foremost commentators of the Abhidhamma books in the Sâsana Era 930 (386 AD) circa. He was welI-known in the history of Theravâda Buddhism, and recognized as "Buddha-mataññû" (one who knows the way of the Buddha).[5]

These are the three great commentaries on, or the exposition of the seven Abhidhamma books. In the Visuddhimagga-Aííhakathâ, many difficult and profound points on the Abhidhamma are almost fully explained. The writing of Buddhaghosa was made possible, depending on the methods laid down by the former writers of the Abhidhamma. If we study the Atthasâlinî-Aííhakathâ, we will come to know that there were a lot of Elders[6],  prior to Buddhaghosa, who were well-versed in the studies of the Abhidhamma.

The Abhidhamma treaties by Venerable Buddhadatta

The Venerable Buddhadatta was a contemporary writer of Buddhaghosa and he wrote a small book, "Abhidhammâvatâra," a concise study. He also compiled another book, "Rûpârûpa vibhaàga," the analytical study of the ultimate realities Paramattha in two divisions, that is, materiality and mentality (Rûpa and Nâma).[7] Based on these treatises, the Venerable Anuruddha, who wrote a well- known book, that is, Abhidhammattha-saàgaha and others in the later generation also wrote books for the basic study of the Abhidhamma, and they should be recorded as the pioneers in the long history of Abhidhamma.

Abhidhamma-mûlaíîkâs by Venerable Ânanda

Since the 12th century of the Sâsana Era many Abhidhamma-Íîkâs came into being in Sri Lanka. Venerable Ânanda compiled the sub-commentaries on the three Abhidhamma commentaries. As they were the first and foremost among the Íîkâs ever appeared in the history of Buddhism, they are called Mûlaíîkâs (the basic sub-commentaries). He presented his writing in a concise and comprehensive style in his books and thus they were praiseworthy. He solved difficult Abhidhamma problems and also spoke out his comments bravely on some points put forward by Venerable Buddhaghosa.

Venerable Dhammapâla, the writer of Anuíîkâs

Venerable Dhammapâla was a sub-commentator who appeared after Venerable Ânanda. He wrote Anuíîkâ, the exposition of the Mûlaíîkâ. Anuíîkâs are also as concise, comprehensive and profound as the Mûlaíîkâ. In case of discrepancies between the commentator and the sub-commentator, the writer of the Anuíîkâ sided with the commentator. There are many explanations concerning Abhidhamma included in Visuddhimagga-mahâíîkâ written by him. He also wrote a mini-commentary called Sacca-sankhepa.

Some mini-commentaries on Abhidhamma by Venerable Anuruddha

In the 15th century of the Sâsana Era, there appeared in Sri Lanka a well-known commentator named Anuruddha Thera.[8] Of the three treaties were written by Anuruddha Thera, the first, Abhidhammattha-sangaha, has been used as an indispensable handbook for ages, from generation to generation, up to the present day. It still maintains its popularity among the students as it covers all the essential points in the Abhidhamma. The book Paramattha-vinicchaya is full of decisions on Abhidhamma and is also well-known in the world of Abhidhamma literature.

The mini-íîkâs on the Abhidhamma

Following the Abhidhammattha-Saàgaha, there appeared a series of mini-íîkâs on the Abhidhamma. Of them (a) The old Abhidhammattha-saàgaha-íîkâ by Venerable Vimala and (b) The Abhidhammattha-Vibhâvini-íîkâ by Venerable Sumaàgala-mahâsâmi are the most famous.

Venerable Sumaàgala-mahâsâmi also compiled two other íîkâs (a) The Abhidhammattha-Vibhâvini (alias) the New Abhidhammâvatâra-íîkâ, and (b) The New Sacca-sankhepa-íîkâ. In compiling the Abhidhammattha-Vibâhavini-íîkâ, Venerable Sumaàgala-mahâsâmi relied much on the writing, that is, the word-to-word translation of his own teacher, Venerable Sâriputta, written in Sinhalese language. There might be, of course, a lot of expositions on Abhidhamma in Pâéi as well as in Sinhalese language. [9]

The Advent of Abhidhamma to Myanmar

Although the historical record cannot specify the definite year of the arrival of the Abhidhamma-Piíaka in Myanmar, in the 11th century AD during the reign of king Manuhâ, there had been already in Thaton, the Ramanna country in Lower Myanmar, the Tipiíaka and Buddhist Mon monks who were well-versed in the studies of Tipiíaka. Therefore, the Thaton Mon people would be undoubtedly familiar with the Teachings of the Buddha.

Besides, after the Third Buddhist Council, the two Venerables Sona and Uttara were sent to Suvannabhumi, which was believed as the present-day Thatot. According to the Mon History there had been already 32 sets of Tipiíaka during the reign of King Manühã, and all these were carried by the King Anawratha to Bagan. Herein the Abhidhamma Studies developed to a great extent.

The Arrival of Abhidhamma-Piíaka in Bagan

King Anawratha of Bagan, attacked Thaton in (ME 41, SE 1601) 1057 AD and brought the entire Piíakas on his return, according to the Myanmar record. In (1173 AD), during the reign of King Narapati-Sithu, Ven. Sappada, having learnt the Tipiíaka in Sri Lanka and arrived back in Bagan and brought with him the Abhidhamma traditions. Therefore the Sinhalese Buddhist traditions were introduced to the Myanmar people. The History of Piíaka mentioned the following two treaties as attributed to Sappada Thera.

1. (a) Sankhepa-Vaúúanâ and

2. (b) Namacara-dipaka.

Paramatthabindu by king Kyaswa

Having ascended the throne on ME 596 (1234 AD), King Kyaswa of Bagan, well-versed as was he in the Abhidhamma, compiled a small treatise named Paramatthabindu for convenient learning of Abhidhamma for the sake of his courtiers. This means that the people in the palace also learned the Abhidhamma. The qualification of a minister was generally assessed by his well-versedness in the Tipiíaka.

In Bagan Period (640-1331 AD), though not many treatises on Abhidhamma appeared, yet many people, within and without the palace were engaged in learning Abhidhamma earnestly. It was the milestone of the Age, indeed.

The Abhidhamma treatises during the Pinya Dynasty (13l2-l364 AD)

In the Pinya Period two treaties on Abhidhamma written by Nânakitti Thera appeared. They are (a) Atthasâlinî-yojana-patho and (b) Sammohavinodanî-yojana-patho

The Abhidhamma during the Inwa Dynasty (1364-1733 AD)

The Abhidhamma tradition which originated in the Bagan was gradually developing up to the lnwa Period without any disturbance.

On a stone-marble inscribed in 1442 AD (Sasana 1986, ME 804) there was mention of the list of Abhidhamma Treatises to be studied as follows:

1. The seven Abhidhamma Scriptures

2. The Three Abhidhamma Commentaries

3. MûlaÍîkâ

4. Anuíîkâ

5. Abhidhammattha-saàgaha

6. The Old Saàgaha-Íîkâ

7. The New Sangaha-Íîkâ

8. The New Namarupa-pariccheda-Íîkâ

9. The New Paramattha-vinicchaya-Íîkâ

10.    Mohavicchedani

By examining this list, we can conclude that the studies of Abhidhamma in the (1364-1733 AD) Inwa Period are almost as complete as our present age.

Verbatim Word-to-Word Translations (Nissaya-treatises)

Word-to-Word Translation is called "Nissaya" in Myanmar. Some translations such as Kathavatthu-Nissaya, Atthasalini-Nissaya could be found on the list of Inscription. Therefore we can guess that these translations were prevailing at that time.

As the Abhidhamma Studies progressed, the early part of the Inwa Period produced some able writers such as the Venerable Ariyavamsa during the reign of king Narapati (1442-1468 AD, ME804-830).[10]

According to the history of Piíakas, there also appeared three Abhidhamma-Íîkâs in  the reign of King Bayinnaung (1550-1581 AD) in Hansavati (now Pegu or Bago). They are namely,

1. Madhuíîkâ (alias) Madhusâratthadîpanî (by Ven. Ânanda)

2. Patthanasaradipani-Íîkâ (by Ven. Saddhammâlaàkâra)

3. Apheggusaradipani-Íîkâ (by Ven. Mahâsuvaúúadîpa)

The Verbatim Translation of Abhidhammattha-sangaha

Then during the reign of king Anauk phet Lon (1605-1628 AD, ME 967-990) the Ven. Tilokaguru of Inwa compiled the following books:

1. Dhatukatha-vannana-Íîkâ

2. Yamaka-vannana-Íîkâ

3. Patthana-vannana-Íîkâ

The Four Most Erudite Monks in Myanmar

In the religious history of Myanmar, there are four most erudite monks:

1. Venerable Aggavaèsa, the autor of Saddanîti (Bagan)

2. Venerable Ariyavaèsa, the author of Manimañjusa-Íîkâ (Sigaing)

3. Venerable Varâbhisaàghanâtha (Inwa)

4. Venerable Manindaghosa (alias) Taungbhila Sayadaw (Inwa)

Of them, the fourth Sayadaw was very prominent.[11] He wrote Four Synopses. Actually these synopses called "Ayakauk" in Myanmar show the meaning, characteristic, enumeration etc. of the Abhidhamma Texts very vividly and give a clear understanding to the students concerned.

This book Ayakauk is generally used as a support for discussions mostly conducted at night without any light. Therefore such discussions are called "night-classes". The night-classes with the support of Ayakauks are a good help for the efficient understanding of the Abhidhamma philosophy. We are much gratful to those Sayadaws, including Taungbhila Sayadaw[12] who was a leading personality in the teaching of Abhidhamma.

After Taungbhila Sayadaw there were some Sayadaws who appeared in the Inwa (Ava) Period. These writers of Abhidhamma are mentioned below with their respective works.

1. The Ven. Aggadhammalankara (Nankyaung Sayadaw)

(a) Mûlaíîkâ Nissaya

(b) Abhidhamma Ayakauks

2. The Ven. Anantadhaja (Taungbhila Sayadaw)

(a) Saàgaha Nissaya

(b) Abhidhamma Ayakauk

3. The Ven. Ariyalankara (Nayyin Sayadaw)

(a) Atthsâlinî Nissaya (Old)

(b) Sammohavinodanî Nissaya

(c) Sankhepa Vaúúanâ Íîkâ Nissaya

(d) Saàgaha (Old translation)

(e) Abhidhammattha Vibhâvini Nissaya

4. Ven. Nanavara (a) (1750-1753 AD) Kyaw Aung San Tha Sayadaw, the first

(a) Atthsâlinî Gandhi (Old)

(b) Saàgaha Gandhi

5. Ven. Saradassi (a) Pubbarama Sayadaw

(a) Dhâtukathâ Yojana

6. Ven. Ariyalankara (alias) Dakkhinawun Sayadaw

(a) Saàgaha Nissaya

Conclusion

The Abhidhamma Development has been marching at a galloping pace since the  Konbaung Period (1752-1885 AD) up to the present age with the appearance of the Ayakauk- treatises. This happens because the learning is supported by government and the people. Everywhere the recitation of Paííhâna Pâéi could be heard throughout the year. The Abhidhamma-examinations are coming out here and there just like mushrooms. People are much interested in learning Abhidhamma and also encourage those Pariyatti monasteries which teach Abhidhamma day and night. Thus Abhidhamma will never disappear from this soil Myanmar as it has been firmly rooted.

References (All in Myanmar language)

  1. The Brief history of Abhidhamma (Department of Religious Affairs. Kaba Aye, Yangon) Printed in 1978
  2. The History of Abbidhamma Literature in Myanmar by Venerable Somananda, December, 1991
  3. The History of Piíakas by Mahasirizeyyathu, Printed in 1989
  4. Mon People and the Buddha-Sasana by Bhikkhu Udom Uttamo, Thailand,  Printed in 1988
  5. The Origin of Suvaabhumi (Suvannabhumi-Uppanna-rajakatha)
  6. The Origin of Hansawady (Hansavati-Uppanna-rajakatha)

The last two are in palm-leaf version.

Some periods in the History of Myanmar

(a)         Bagan Period- AD 80-1335 (58 dynasties)

(b)         Pinya Period- AD 1312-1364 (6 dynasties)

(c)         Sagaing Period- AD 1330-1364 (7 dynasties)

(d)         Inwa/Ava Period- AD 1364-1733 (30 dynasties)

(e)         Konbaung Period- AD 1753-1885 (11 dynasties)

 

End



[1] Presented at The International Conference of All Theravâda Buddhist Universities held at The International Theravâda Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, & at Woodlands Hotel, Popa Mountain Resort, Bagan, Myanmar, 9-12th March 2007

[2] Yet there might be many others during the life-time of the Buddha who learnt Abhidhamma directly from their Elder Thera. There is much evidence in the Pâéi Texts indicating the tradition of Abhidhamma studies as a speciality just like Vinaya and Suttanta Piíaka since the time of the Buddha. Mahâgosinga-sutta in Majjhima-nikâya contain the record that great disciples the Venerable Sâriputta and Moggallâna discussed various aspects Abhidhamma

[3]  The recitation programme is first, Vinaya (3 books); second, Digha-Nikaya (3books); third, Majjhima-Nikaya (3books); fourth, Samyutta-Nikaya (5books); fifth, Anguttara-Nikaya (11 books),  sixth, Abhidhamma (7 books); seventh, Khuddaka-Nikaya with Khuddakapatha at the beginning. N.B. The Kathavatthu, which belongs to Abhidhamma was included only in outline.  It became full-fledged only at the Third Buddhist Council.

[4] It was held at Asokarama monastery in Pataliputta (now Patna) with the support of King Asoka

[5]  The Abhidhamma books written by the Thera are :

1.  Atthasâlinî Aííhakathâ (the commentary on the Dhammasaàgaúî Pâéi)

2.  Sammohavinodanî- Aííhakathâ (the commentary on the Vibhanga)

3.  Pañcapakaraúa- Aííhakathâ (the commentary on the five Pâéi books including Dhâtukathâ, Puggala-paññatti, Kathâvatthu, Yamaka and Paííhânaéis.

[6] Tipitaka-Culanaga Thera   2. Moravapivasi Mahâdatta Thera 3. Tipiíaka-Mahârakkhita Thera  4. Tipiíaka-Culâbhaya Thera  5. Mentions about these Theras sporadically appear in the Atthasâlinî Aííhakathâ

 [7]   These two treatises are called mini-commentaries as they are not big, but quite small considering the other great commentaries.

[8] He wrote three mini-commentaries:  (i) Abhidhammattha Saàgaha patho (ii) Paramattha vinicchaya patho (iii) Nâmarûpa pariccheda

 [9]   Here in the following are some of them as described in a dissertation "The History of the Piíakas" (by Mahasiri-jeyyathu).

1.  Khemaparana-patho (by Ven. Khema)

2.  Mahâvicchedani-patho (by Ven. Kassapa)

3.  The Old Paramattha-Vinicchaya-Íîkâ (by Ven. Mahabodhi)

4.  The New Paramattha-Vinicchaya-Íîkâ (by an anonymous)

5.  The Old Namarupa-pariccheda-Íîkâ (by Ven. Vacissara)

6.  The New Namarupa-pariccheda-Íîkâ (by an anonymous)

7.  The Old Abhidhamma-Vatara-Íîkâ (by Ven. Vacissara)

8.  Ruparupa-Vibhaga-Íîkâ (by an anonymous)

9.  Khema-Íîkâ (by Ven. Mahabodhi)

10. Moha-vicchedani-Íîkâ (by Ven. Kassapa)

11. The Old Sacca-sankhepa-Íîkâ (by Ven. Vacissara)

 

[10] He wrote: 1. Manidipa-Íîkâ,  2.Manisaramanjusa-Íîkâ and 3.The verbatim of Anuíîkâ

[11] During the reign of king Thalun (ME 991-1010, 1628-1648), he wrote the following Abhidhamma texts:

                 1. The Synopsis of Mâtikâ

               2. The Synopsis of Dhâtukathâ

3. The Synopsis of Yamaka and

                   4. The Synopsis of Paííhâna

[12]  He also wrote two books:  1.Vasati-vaúúana-patho and 2. The verbatim translation of    Abhidhammattha-saàgaha

Comments

Remembrance of Honourable Ven. Kosalla

The points regarding this the Historical Background of Abbhidhamma that he gave here are short, clear, perfect and easy to get.
He was a great and honourable teacher. He was from Ye, Mon State, Mon nationality origin.
He was appointed as Professor and Dean of Faculty of Pariyatti at International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, Rangoon, Myanmar.

But, after all, we lost him now. He passed away on 27th of November, 2008. He passed away peacefully while writing his daily Diary in a car.

I, on behalf of the whole Mon communities and others, would like to express condolence and remembrance of Late Ven. Kosalla.