Vasubhandu's Essence of Abhidharma
What is form? What is matter? What is mind? For that matter, what is a thing? Why do we need to know? Because not knowing — ignorance — is the root of our suffering and confusion. Ignorance clouds our awareness and our ability to see clearly the nature of mind and the mental factors that make up our moment to moment experience. By finely examining these factors and investigating their qualities, relationships and essential nature, we are able to clear the clouds to enable the sun of insight to shine through.
This course will delve into the heart of abhidharma, which translates literally as the higher or sublime dharma, or meta-dharma. This branch of teachings explains the way things are in such a way as to reveal the path to liberation. As is the tradition, we will begin with the “building blocks” -- the precise definitions and classification of things (and non-things!). These are the basis upon which all subsequent levels of Buddhist study are built. Going deeper, we will explore the layers and complexities of consciousness, in particular the base consciousness or alayavijnana. Throughout the course, our focus will be on how these frameworks help us to understand and dissolve the belief in a self — and all of its ramifications.
Our root text will be Vasubhandu’s Summary of the Five Skandhas with a wonderful commentary by his student Sthiramati. We will use the translation in The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice by Artemis Engle, which also contains a wonderful Mahayana version of the Four Mindfulnesses. In this text, Vasubhandu focuses upon what are called the Three Skills – the three core topics of the abhidharma which all Buddhists should be knowledgeable in: the 5 skandhas, the 12 Ayatanas and the 18 Dhatus. He explains the purpose of these three: "...the heaps were taught as an antidote for the belief in a unity; the bases were taught as an antidote for the belief in an entity that experiences; and the constituents were taught as an antidote for the belief in an agent."
All interested in exploring the sublime dharma and challenging their belief in the notion of a self are welcomed to join in this excursion!