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Aspects of Buddhist Psychology - Unchecked

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

... living in, say, medieval Europe or the medieval
Middle East when it was completely Islamic, or in ancient India when it was traditionally
Buddhist or traditionally Hindu, where you had a completely unified culture in which
everything was referred to certain basic spiritual principles. It must have been a completely
different experience to live within that sort of culture, and to be nurtured and nourished by it.
We just don't have that experience. It is very difficult for us even to imagine what it is like to
live in a culture of that sort. Perhaps we have to develop a little cultural enclave of our own,
where, at least within that enclave, everything that we are involved in, everything that we do,
is referred back to basic spiritual principles.
This is why - going off the track a bit, but perhaps not very much
Q & A ABP I/1/5.)
I wonder qbout the different people in the Movement who, say, are getting into art. Devamitra
expressed himself to be rather concerned about what he described as 'an outbreak of a rash of
painting' among the women Mitras and Friends around one particular centre. He may be right
or he may be wrong in that particular evaluation; but I think what is important is that, if one
does get into painting, one should try to relate it to fundamental Buddhist spiritual principles.
I don't think it is quite enough just to express your feelings. Do you see what I'm getting at? It
is not enough just to use the art as a therapy, almost. The art has really got to be integrated
with one's spiritual life, a support of that spiritual life and an expression of that spiritual life.
But that is why I think it is good if people who do have artistic talents and gifts serve the
interests of the Movement by creating images and paintins thankas and so on. I am not so sure
that just a little bit of contemporary-style art, though it may amuse one and keep one happy
for an evening or two a week, has really got very much spiritual value or is really the sort of
thing that we ought to be encouraging people to get involved in.
But anyway, that opens up all sorts of issues. Perhaps we should pass on to the next
Abhaya: The next question is from Surata on the origins of the Mahasariputra legend as origin
of the Abhidharma.
Surata: Yes, Bhante, we noticed in our group the paradox between the Thera- vada
Abhidhamma beinq larqely devoid of a human element and of mYth and leqend, and yet there
is this leuend that it oriqinated from the Buddha teach- inq in the Tushita heaven and also the
fact that the texts themselves are written in qold and surrounded by an air of mestery. Could
you comment?
S: auenther quotes somewhere a text to the effect that the Abhidharma is, I think, ia feast of
delight for the wise'. Perhaps one has to bear in mind that much of the Abhidharma literature
is not meant for reading, in the ordinary sense. It is a sort of aLdew7e7Dize, one might say, in
a way, to assist meditation, especially to assist in the development of Insight; because I have
described the Abhidharma in terms of analytical psychology, the analytical psychology of the
Abhidharma. Because, though there is an element of synthesis too, which must not be
neglected, what perhaps immediately strikes one about the Abhidharma is how very analytical
it is. But why is it analytical? It is analytical for a quite practical spiritual purpose: that is, to
help one break down the idea of a permanent unchanging self into
Q & A ABP I/1/66its constituent parts, or better still its constituent processes. So that, instead of thinking in
terms of, say, atman or atta you think in terms of a whole congeries of processes made up of
elements which are constantly changing. So the analyses of the Abhidharma are really meant -
in principle, at least - as supports for that kind of analysis in the context of meditation.
Maybe, later on, analysis was refined upon for its own sake, but that is another matter. So one
must bear in mind that as you read through the socalled books of the Abhidharma, which are
not meant for reading, which are meant as manuals, one might say, in most cases, for
meditators, you won't feel the same interest and perhaps delight as the meditator might feel.
This ties up with something I said the other evening, referring to Swedenborg - do you
remember that, those who were present? - that knowledge becomes wisdom only if you
delight in it; and, of course, you delight only in that which you love. So to us the Abhidharma
presents itself under the aspect of knowledge; there isn't that element of delight. But perhaps
if you, so to speak, start loving the Abhidharma and delighting in it, you will experience it in
a different way; but you can do that only or mainly through meditation, through actually
utilising the analytical material contained in the Abhidharma as a support for the development
of insight into the evanescent nature of the so-called personality. Do you catch the idea?
(Voices assenting.)
So perhaps it isn't therefore surprising that the Abhidharma should have been said to
have been preached originally by the Buddha to his mother in the Tushita - or satisfied or
delighted - devaloka; also, perhaps, not surprising that the actual texts should be beautifully
illuminated and so on.
On the other hand, of course, many Buddhists in Theravada Buddhist countries have
got almost a blind respect for or blind faith in the Abhidharma and decorate the covers of
Abhidharma books out of that devotion without any understanding of what the contents are.
So, there, it is as though you've gotknowledge with devotion superimposed upon it, instead of
having the two as it were blended together into something more like Wisdom. But in the true
sense one might say that these myths, if you like, and these particular practices,at least
suggest or hint at the fact that the Abhidharma isn't really in principle anything purely
intellectual. Though maybe in the Theravada countries of today, very often, it is studied just
in that way, without reference to meditation and in a purely abstract, almost academic, way.
Sometimes lay people in Burma, say, learn great lists of Abhidharma categories off by heart,
and they can reel them off to you with a great deal of satis
Q & A ABP I/1/77 faction,but they don't actually reflect on them or meditate on them, or try to develop Insight
on the basis of them.
For instance, those people who have studied ASnd En BuddAEsE ~sychotogy, which
deal3 with cEtEas and ca£EasEEas, must have found that extremely interesting and even
inspiring. Well, this is technically Abhidharma material, but of a - well, not exactly simple; it
is somewhat basic, basic in the sense of fundamental. It represents in some ways one of the
most important parts of that whole material. It is certainly useful and relevant and certainly
not just dry and uninteresting.
Tejananda: Could you say something about the basis for the actual use of Abhidharma
material as a source of Insight meditation?
5: I suppose, by way of illustration, one can go back to the six senses, the 1Z dhatus and the
18 ayatanas. Do you see what I mean? Because you as it were say to yourself, 'Here is the eye,
there is the visual object, and in dependence upon the conjunction of eye and visual object,
there arises eye-consciousness. It is a process.' And you go through the rest of the senses and
their respective objects and the respective consciousnesses that arise in that way, so in this
way you break down your so-called self-sxperience into something which is complex,
something which is plural and not singular. And you review this, you bear this in mind, you
reflect upon it. That is the simplest form of such as it were analytical reflection. And
Guenther translates pta/na as - what does he call it? analytical - (Voice: Appreciative
discrimination.) Appreciative discrimination. It is analytical. ?za/na, wisdom, certainly in the
early days of Buddhism, or in the context of the Abhidharma, has this implication of an
analysis, an analysis of existence, an analysis of experience into what the Abhidharma calls
dba _ s. So the division into senses and sense objects and sense-consciousnesses represents
what one might call a rudimentary or even a primitive form of that type of analysis. It can
become very complex, because in the Abhidharma you have the 24 paccayas,or relations. So
you can apply these. You learn this list of 24 paccayas off by heart, and when you consider
the relationship, say, between the eye and the visual object, you ask yourself; 'By way of what
type of paccaya is it related?7, because everything is not related to everything else in the same
way; there are these 24 possibilities.
This is, by the way, distinctive to the Theravada. The Sarvastivada stops at four
Tejananda: So, basically, you can use the cntire formulations of the Abhi
Q & A ABP I/1/S 8dharma in that way?
S: Yes, examining your mental state and analysing it in accordance with the categories of the
Abhidharma, the categories as represented by the dhasnas. This is the basic procedure. It is a
sort of drill. It can become mechanical if one isn't careful, but as we have seen, I am sure, in
the case of Mind tn BuddhLst ~sychology, it does have certain definite practical advantages
and benefits. For instance, when you are looking at the mental events, the cactasakas, which
are present in all states ...

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