Soon after the time of Gautama the Buddha a literature began to grow involving the reported words of Gautama, the rules and procedures governing the order of monks he founded, and attempts to set forth his philosophical teachings as understood and developed by his immediate pupils and the schools of Buddhist thought which grew in succeeding generations.
The present volume undertakes to summarize the gist of these philosophical teachings, termed Abhidharma, from the first texts that developed after the Buddha up to and including the mammoth text called 'Mahavibhasa', generated from a convention held in the first or second century A.D.
Thus all the texts here summarized originated in a period from no earlier than 350 B.D. through no later than 150 A.D. The authors of these texts are mainly concerned to set forth the tenets and arguments of Buddhist philosophy as understood by what came to be two main literary traditions of Abhidharma. One of these traditions migrated eventually to Sri Lanka, and it is its literary corpus that is now known as the Pali Canon. The other tradition, which stemmed from the northern part of India, came to be known as Sarvastivada, as in its texts it was proposed that the momentary factors (dharma) that comprise the components of the Buddhist universe really exist, not only such factors presently occurring but past and future ones as well. Each of these two schools had its own Abhidharma, two sets of seven texts each, in which their views are set forth in extensive detail.
It is the thoughts presented in these texts, together with a handful of other sources of the period, that comprise the contents of the present volume.
About the Author:
Karl H. Potter is Professor of Philosophy and South Asian Studies and Chairman of the Philosophy Department at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. He is the General Editor of the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies.