Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mahayana: Vasubandhu's Abhidharma-kosa

K.R. Paramahamsa, The Red Carpet Broadcast (TRCB.com)
1,000-armed Goddess of Compassion, Kwan Yin, Capital Museum, Beijing (Sftrajan/Flickr.com)
The Abhidharma-kosa ("Treasury of the Higher Teachings") of Vasubandhu helps orient readers to a Buddhist view of the path to liberation.
The Abhidharma-kosa is organized into nine chapters. The first two set forth the factors organized under categories like aggregates, sense bases, and elements.
These factors are distinguished as pure and impure, conditioned and unconditioned, and so on. The work lists about 75 factors that have come to be thought of as the definitive Abhidharma ("Higher Teaching") account relating to Dharma.
The intention of the entire work is fixed on the proclivities. The basic six ones are considered to be:
  1. attachment (raga)
  2. aversion or repugnance (dvesa, pratigha)
  3. pride (mana)
  4. ignorance (avidya)
  5. wrong view (drsti)
  6. perplexity (vicikitsa).
By relating these proclivities to varied defilements, contaminants [taints], floods, bonds, afflictions and envelopers, Vasubandhu develops a highly complex analysis in Chapter 5.
Collet Cox relates the problems that arise when trying to abandon the proclivities, which relate to different sources of bondage such as defilements thus:
Within post-Vibhasa Sarvastivadin Abhidharma texts, categories of defilements come to be differentiated according to their functions, which in turn become the subject of heated sectarian controversy.
This controversy reflects the further refinement of theories concerning the operation of thought and proclivities as well as the methods by which proclivities are to be abandoned. It is also interconnected with the development of more sophisticated ontological theories, which affected all aspects of Abhidharma doctrine.
In particular, this controversy involves the possibility of a distinction between latent and active proclivities and the relation between them and the thought processes of the individual life-stream they characterize.
At issue is the development of a model that could successfully explain the apparent, persistent activity of certain proclivities, the reemergence of their activity after an interruption, and the mechanism by which they are to be abandoned. For example, can un-virtuous proclivities arise conditioned by a virtuous factor?
If not, then what is the causal mechanism by which defilements arise immediately after a virtuous moment of thought? Further, if defilements are associated with thought, since two associated thought-concomitants of differing moral quality cannot occur simultaneously, how can the virtuous counter agent that obstructs a particular proclivity arise simultaneously with it?
If, however, proclivities are not understood to be associated with thought, their very activity of defiling thought is meaningless, and no abandonment is necessary. Finally, if proclivities are understood to exist as real entities in the past and future as well as in the present, then they can never be destroyed in the sense that they become nonexistent, so in what sense can they be said to be abandoned?
Vasubandhu and Samghabhadra attempt to... More

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