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[ Dhamma Talk ]

Helpful in the Beginning

One of the statements regularly made by those who advocate study of the Abhidhamma and commentaries is that while the Sutta Pitaka is certainly the word of the Buddha (... but ...), it is made up of teachings directed at specific individuals or groups at high levels of advancement, is specialized, and is therefore not the best vehicle for those who are beginners.

Putting aside the fact that the Abhidhamma is headache-makingly dense, and in places completely inaccessable to first hand knowledge by beginners (relying, if on real experience at all, as opposed to what appears to be the likely case, that is, on logical inference — on information we are supposed to believe is coming from experience of the highest jhanas — which, I know, is not to put aside the issue at all!), I suggest there are two arguments against this proposition both of which are found in the suttas themselves:

First is the expression, made by the Buddha, repeated throughout the suttas, that: "Well Taught by Me is Dhamma, Helpful in the Beginning, Helpful in the Middle, and Helpful at the End."

This is a clear enough statement that we need not look outside the Suttas for "explanations" of Dhamma, even as beginners.

Second is this quote from The Middle Length Sayings #36, Greater Discussion with Saccaka,[1] (I quote Horner):

Now, I, Aggivessana, am aware that when I am teaching dhamma to companies consisting of many hundreds, each person thinks thus about me: 'The recluse Gotama is teaching dhamma especially for me.' But this, Aggivessana, should not be understood thus. For when a Tathagata is teaching dhamma to others it is for the sake of general instruction.

Here, friends, I am not doing this with the idea of contradicting the Abhidhammistas, it is with the idea of showing that it is the Abhidhammistas who are contradicting the Dhamma.


[1]PTS, Horner, pp 303;
WP: Nanamoli/Bodhi, pp 342)

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