Part two: The Compendium of Decisions

What is the supreme state of this cessation? It is the cessation practised by of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which is nirvana without fixation, because it is based on their detemination to give benefit and happiness to all living beings.”

Asanga, in Abhidharmasamuccaya

Chapter 1: The Explanation of the Four Truths of the Noble Ones

Seconde partie : Le Compendium des décisions


1- The Truth called Suffering:

The Truth called Suffering concerns the inanimate as well as the animate world, that is the universe and its inhabitants. Asanga treats this subject in the chronological order that follows:

The inanimate world
The Buddhist teachings, particularly those belonging to the Mahayana, explain that there exist an unlimited number of universes in the ten directions of space. These systems are in the process of constant evolution, continually going through the phases of development, duration, destruction and void.

The animate world comprises the six classes of beings of the desire realm: those of the hell realms, the hungry ghosts, the animals, the humans, the jealous gods and the gods; and also the beings of the form and the formless realm belong to it.

The suffering of these worlds can be described in three aspects: There is the 'suffering as manifest suffering' which is the ordinary pain of life, there is the 'suffering due to change' and the 'suffering inherent in the conditioned state'.

"The suffering as manifest suffering" in the human realm is described through eight examples
the suffering of birth,
old age, 
loss of something pleasant,
encountering the unpleasant or unwanted,
the strife of obtaining things and the difficulty of protecting what was acquired.

Four attributes that characterize all phenomena

Asanga explains that all things have four characteristics: impermanence, suffering, are empty and devoid of a self-entity. 

Insubstantial nature of matter 

When analyzing atoms or molecules which make up material substance, no such thing as an indivisible, independently existing particle can be found. Matter can be divided in ever tinier particles indefinitely. Through analysis one can come to understand that an indivisible particle could not possibly assemble with other particles in order to form greater entities. Assembling two particles implies that they have sides in different directions; therefore they still can be divided. Through realizing the impossibility of an indivisible particle, one understands the absence of reality of material substance.

The suffering of death 
Finally, Asanga gives a description of the suffering of death, and particularly of the following intermediate state (skt: antarabhava; tib: bar do), which a sentient being experiences between two incarnations. The beings wandering there are literally called “smell eaters” (skt: gandahrava; tib: dri za).

"The intermediate state is experienced by someone who acted predominantly in a negative way as something like a black bull, or a dark night. A virtuous person will see it as white material or a bright star-lit night”.
: in Abhidharmasamuccaya

2- The Origin of Suffering:

La The second Truth is in part a description of the cause of suffering and in part an explanation of the origin or source of rebirth in cyclic existence.

In a general, thirst or desire is mentioned as the origin of suffering. In a more detailed analysis, mental obscurations (skt: klesha, tib: nyon mongs) and actions performed under their influence are considered the direct cause of suffering.

After enumerating the principal mental obscurations, the author goes on to explain their characteristics, their appearance, their objects, their conjunctions, their synonyms, their differences, etc.

Actions based on mental disturbances (emotions) have karmic results, which are described in detail.

3- The Truth called cessation

The truth called cessation of suffering is approached in twelve different ways, such as through its characteristics, its profundity, its truth on a relative level and on an ultimate level and so on. Then, thirty four synonyms of the word “cessation” are enumerated.

“What is the supreme state of this cessation? It is the cessation practised by of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which is nirvana without fixation, because it is based on their detemination to give benefit and happiness to all living beings”.
Asanga, in Abhidharmasamuccaya

At the end of this section the four characteristics of this third Truth are given:
1. It is cessation because it is “devoided of impurities” (mental obscurations).
2. It is peace because it is “devoided of suffering”.
3. It is excellency because it is “the basis for happiness and purity”.
4. It is true deliverance because it is “the basis for permanent well-being”.


4- The Truth called path:

The truth of the path is the practice which leads to fully understand suffering, to give up its origin, and to cultivate the path in order to realize cessation. In this regard, there are five paths:

1-The path of accumulation or preparation consists of the practice of ethical discipline due to the control of the senses, the practice of learning, reflecting and meditating, done by the ordinary practitioner.

2- The path of junction or application leads through further application of the methods of the previous path to acquiring the virtuous roots for the “four factors conducive to insight” which will allow penetration into true reality.

3- The path of seeing is the direct seeing of the reality of all objects, beings and of the self: devoid of constructs and lacking self-entity. It leads to the supreme insight into the Four Truths of the Noble ones.

4- The path of meditation is the cultivation of the higher practices after having attained the path of seeing. It comprises the practice of meditative absorption and the 37 bodhi-factors (skt: bodhipakasadharma; tib: byang chub yan lag sum bcu rtsa dun) which lead to enlightenment. In this presentation, the eightfold path (skt: asta aryamarganga; tib: 'phags lam yan lag brgyad) does not hold the same central place as in the textes of the pali canon.

The 37 factors describe the paths leading to calm abiding and penetrating insight and the combination of both. Asanga gives instructions for developing them in accordance to the capacity of the practitioner.

5- The path of perfection is the realization of the attainment of freedom after having interrupted all that has to be abandonned. Asanga describes the supreme meditative absorption which leads to perfect enlightenment: This vajra-like samadhi (skt: vajropamasamadhi; tib: rdo rje lta bu'i ting nge 'dzin) is the great abandonment – the final truth of cessation, where all disturbances are exhausted, the seeds of the two obscurations along with their tendencies discarded and one obtains freedom from all further arising of defilements.

At this stage of meditation, “one remains unharmed by all the obscurations to be discarded while possessing the power to overcome them."
Asanga, in The Abhidharmasamuccaya

The sutra pitaka was established so as to counteract the minor mental obscuration (skt: upaklesha) of doubt. The vinaya pitaka teaching ethical discipline was established so as to counteract the minor mental obscuration of attachment to the two extremes (of pain and pleasure). The abhidharma pitaka was established so as to counteract the minor mental obscuration of attachment to one's own views.

Asanga, in the Abhidarmasamuccaya


Chapter 2: The Explanation of the Dharmas: the teaching of the Buddha.

The teachings of the Buddha are divided into 12 sections: sutras, narrations in verse, expositions, stanzas, solemn expressions, situations, legends, original occasions, careers of a Bodhisattva - rebirth stories (sanskrit: jataka), expansive, miraculous tales, instructions. All of these different types of teaching make up the Tripitaka.

 “The sutra pitaka was established so as to counteract the minor mental obscuration (skt: upaklesha) of doubt. The vinaya pitaka teaching ethical discipline was established so as to counteract the minor mental obscuration of attachment to the two extremes (of pain and pleasure). The abhidharma pitaka was established so as to counteract the minor mental obscuration of attachment to one's own views.”
Asanga, in The Abhidharmasamuccaya

Asanga divides the Buddhist teaching into the collection for disciples (Shravaka) and the collection for bodhisattvas.
For example, the section called upadesha, which are the instructions of the Buddha, are included within the abhidharma tripitaka of the Shravakas as well as of the Bodhisattvas'. The jatakas, which relate Buddha's former lives when still a Bodhisattva, are to be found in the section of the “career of a Bodhisattva.”
Asanga defines the “object of Dharma” in four points, showing the interested followers how Buddha's teaching should be studied, thereby giving in detail a fruitful manner of integrating the Dharma.

His methods of acquiring knowledge and of investigation apply to studying the scriptures as well as to meditative contemplation.

“In his meditative absorption, the Bodhisattva sees that images are simply mind. Getting rid of the notion of object, perceiving simply his own thinking, and establishing mind in itself, he understands the absence of that which is grasped (the object) and of that which is doing the grasping (the subject). He then experiences the knowledge which cannot be grasped.” Asanga, in The Abhidharmasamuccaya

The last part of the chapter is devoted to the “praise of Vaipulya", the “basis of wellbeing and happiness of all beings,” that is the collection of the perfected qualities (skt: paramita, tib: pha rol tu phyin pa) of the Bodhisattvas. It gives also the reasons why some fear the generation of the perfections of the bodhisattvas, and why others, though attracted by it, cannot attain perfection.

Within this discussion is to be found a list of 28 erroneous views, which can come up in the mind of a Bodhisattva who studied the Dharma superficially, not getting beyond the words.


Chapter 3: The Explanation of the Attainments

This chapter contains two parts: the definition of the individuals and the definition of their understanding.

1 - The definition of the individuals

Asanga establishes several classifications of individuals according to various criteria. 

There are seven types of individuals according to their character and predominant mental obscuration: those under the influence of either 1° concupiscence or  2° aggression, 3° ignorance, 4° pride or 5° distraction (reasoning). The others are 6° of balanced character or 7° have little passions.

A classification according to the fruit that will be obtained by the practice of the path gives three categories: the followers of the Shravaka path, of the Pratyekabuddha path and of the Mahayana, the Bodhisattva path.

As receptacles of the teaching, there are those who have not yet obtained the provisions, those who have at the same time obtained and not obtained the provisions, and finally those who have obtained them.

According to the application of the Dharma, there are those who follow the instructions of their spiritual master with faith and confidence, and others who progress on the path by developing their understanding of reality through rigorous studies and their sharp intelligence.

A classification of the levels of realization and knowledge, which are the results of the practice of the path, gives twenty seven types of individuals, for example those who attained the vision, those-who-entered-the-stream, and so on, up until the different levels of arhat and the different levels of realization on the Mahayana path.

Concerning the different worlds and realms, the individuals are classified as belonging to the realm of desire, of form or of the formless realm.

Concerning the career, there are five types of Bodhisattvas, such as the Bodhisattva guided by inclination, the Bodhisattva supported by strong resolution, and so on.

2 - The definition of understanding (sanskrit: abhisamaya ; tib: mngon rtogs) is presented in ten points:

1. Understanding of the doctrine, 
2. Understanding of the meaning,
3. Understanding of the real state,
4. Understanding of the after-state, 
5. Understanding of the Three Jewels,
6. Understanding which ends one's wandering in samsaric existence,
7. Perfect understanding,
8. Understanding of the Shravakas,
9. Understanding of the Pratyekabuddhas,
10. Understanding of the Bodhisattvas.

Among these ten, the understanding of the Bodhisattvas is studied in great detail. For example, in order to see the differences between the understanding of a Shravaka and a Bodhisattva, the spiritual qualities of the latter are explained, such as the four limitless qualities, the four kinds of discriminative knowledge, the six kinds of super knowledge, the eighteen qualities of a Buddha, and so on.

“The Bodhisattva has accepted countless rebirths for the sake of others. He destroys the obstructions to knowledge, but not the obstructions to mental obscurations (klesha). Nevertheless he remains pure like an arhat.” Asanga: in The Abhidharmasamuccaya


Chapter 4: The Explanation of Dialectics

In this chapter on rethorical skill, Asanga explains the methods for recognizing and deciding the meaning of a text, for explaining a sutra, methods of analytic demonstration, methods for treating questions, for deciding among groups, for deciding on the subject matter or controversy, and methods for deciding on the profound and secret meaning of certain passages in the sutras.

This section on the art of debate (skt: vada ; tib: rtsod pa) by Asanga may be considered as “the first essay on the Buddhist logic that Dignaga and Dharmakirti came to systematize, develop, and perfect later.”
Walpola Rahula, in The Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge by Asanga. It introduces the later development of logic and the study of cognition in Indian Buddhism.

Asanga presents the art of debate under seven rubrics: what is a debate or discussion, the circumstances under which a discussion should take place, the subject of discussion (the things to prove, and the proof), the ornaments of discussion: the qualities to develop such as erudition, eloquence, etc., the definition of what is a defeat in discussionhow to leave the discussion, useful qualities in a discussion (extensive knowledge, self-confidence, lively mind, etc.)

Finally Asanga advises only to engage in debate in order to acquire knowledge for one self, but guard against debating for the mere pleasure of arguing.

This concludes our presentation the works on the subject of Abhidharma.