“The Buddhist view and the Western psychological view are like two different people pointing at the moon, and we want to understand the moon more than the fingers." ― Page X
“Every description is an effort to share what we have in common beyond words.” ― Page X
“The mind is a law of nature.” ― Page XIV
“The Abhidharma contains the plain seed from which almost every branch and theory of Buddhism grows.” ― Page 5
“Really understanding the Abhidharma requires a kind of entry that is three-dimensional and encompassing.” ― Page 7
“By holding them as immutable truth or by ignoring our involvement in their selection, we construct a too-precious and too-rigid self out of the material of our experiences.” ― Page 12
“A person who could discern seventeen steps that occur in about a fourth of a second could communicate with a person 2,500 years later. I ran around talking about this to absolutely anyone I could get to listen.” ― Page 20
“We don’t actually see things. We see characteristics that our mind puts together to inform us of the thing that is there.” ― Page 31
“The capacity for being aware is an essential living force, not a mechanical brain event.” ― Page 34
“Cittas carry us through time, space, and causality; consciousness is seen as a radial event and not a static state.” ― Page 45
“Emotion was not separate, not listed as a thing or state, but described as a pure dynamic within other systems.” ― Page 65
“If awareness and enlightenment about conscious processes address human suffering, then the Abhidharma is a kind of handbook of those processes.” ― Page 74
“… there is a great Pali term, sakalabandhana, which means “fettered by all fetters” and sounds like that too.” ― Page 84
“The Buddhist cosmology runs parallel to its psychology, with exponential added dimensions.” ― Page 89
“It is not that a person reappears in another life, but that a particular type of consciousness process ties together lifetimes that may move between realms.” ― Page 90
“Their range of time perception was clearly far beyond how most people can experience time now. They could see time microscopically and astronomically…” ― Page 93
“There are more possibilities than we imagine, and more imagination available than we usually know.” ― Page 94
“…in the Abhidharma, matter is a momentary phenomenon. This is another disorienting way to say that we are going to be looking at processes of the material world when we study matter, not concrete objects.” ― Page 97
“Nirvana is described by the three aspects of being void, signless, and desireless. It is beyond anything we know; any name we might think of for anything; beyond the grasping of our deepest being.” ― Page 106
“The cumulative power of effervescent bits of awareness drenched in karma is like the cumulative power of the particle making up a universe.” ― Page 110
“If we ask more questions about what is affecting what, how much, and in what ways, we get a different picture than when we ask, ’Why?’ There are more moving pieces to understand and possibly to adjust.” ― Page 120
“The two programs of mental development are not just for attainment of skill, but are the work of liberation.” ― Page 142
“… the gotrabhucitta, or ‘change-of-lineage’ moment … is a pivotal moment of consciousness when the purification processes have so transformed the arising citta that an entirely new frame of reference is needed.” ― Page 149
“The authors of this psychological architecture were seeking an essential healing, knowing that anything superficial or culturally bound was going to have limited application. Following from Buddha, the idea was a therapy for all beings.” ― Page 152
“Chasing down every possibility of every combination of every quality of every experience on every scale is truly a staggering task – and has probably come close to being accomplished over the years by the various brilliant minds who worked on the Abhidharma.” ― Page 154
“This model expresses the necessity for creativity to emerge from inconceivable complexity, rather than being built from known formulas. The Abhidharma’s dynamic message has this type of creativity.” ― Page 156
“Buddha’s essential therapeutic message – to abandon clinging – reminds us not to lock up. Don’t grasp at perception, reaction, or experience. Don’t even lock up with complicated study.” ― Page 156
Take a few settling deep breaths.
Imagine before you a beautiful three dimensional matrix. You might build it out of diamond lego blocks or blue velvet pipe cleaners or exquisite green vines with sweet blossoms. Make it complicated and irregular. If you can work with more than three dimensions, feel free to add more.
Add some motion, vibration or pulsations or wind movement causing it to sway, or heave and return.
Add some play of light, shadows, strobe effects.
This image before you represents the Buddha’s understanding of the dynamic universe, the constant interplay of consciousness, matter, immaterial beings and forces, life and death.
Now, if you can imagine one more thing, get yourself in the matrix.
Either picture walking up to it and climbing in, or pick up the whole thing and put it over your head, or drop in. You might have to shift scale or make a door.
Settle into it, dissolve yourself in it, drop body and mind, feel the motion and dynamic of the matrix both within yourself and surrounding you.
Take another deep breath and refocus on where you are.
That is the basic mental motion of Abhidharma study.
That is all there is to it.
If you practice this basic motion, it will serve you well with many studies.
Now we just have to add some content, make the matrix work with words and ideas.
But keep it around and within you and then it will be useful in indirect ways.
It will slip into your activities and clarify them.
The Abhidharma is no more than a way to describe this dynamic matrix, a plain way that is still both scientific and poetic. Since it describes a matrix that includes our own conscious capacities, we automatically become part of it when we study it. Since it describes forces in relation, it is always in motion, so we have to start moving when we join it. And since the description is without human story, pronoun or narrative, its purity helps inform and direct us when we do move with it.
So why isn’t this the most well-known, popular study of all time and people? Partly it is because it is presented as a bunch of lists, matrixes and technical commentaries. This has made it seem dry and overly intellectual, and has kept it mostly in scholarly realms of academia and monasteries. It is also an area of traditional and well-deserved reverence, so it requires a deep respect in entry.
The Abhidharma is so intricate and interwoven that it doesn’t summarize well, and you can’t look at one piece in isolation. You have to jump in and adjust to many moving pieces. You have to use your right hemisphere. You have to forego a lot of linguistic packaging and narrative to study lists and matrices.
You mostly have to tolerate the complexity and radial embrace of the matrix you imagined. With some receptivity, curiosity and heart, the beneficial and enlightening aspects of Abhidharma study are readily available.
“Beth Jacobs not only reveals the essence of the complex and nuanced text of the Abhidharma but holds it lightly and turns it slowly so that we can see through it to a whole new view of ourselves and the world.”
—Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD, Author of The Present Heart: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Discovery
“A wonderfully unique, refreshing, and much-needed alternative to the seemingly dry, tedious, and endless lists that typify the vast Abhidharma literature. Beth Jacobs has given us a penetrating, thorough, and dynamically practical study, full of beautiful lived examples that clearly demonstrate everyday usefulness.”
—Seiso Paul Cooper, Author of The Zen Impulse and the Psychoanalytic Encounter
“A treasure of a book and a unique contribution to the study of Buddhism and mind.”
—Sojun Diane Martin, Founding and Guiding Teacher, Udumbara Zen Center
“Jacobs makes the Abhidharma come alive. Her examples are startlingly illustrative, her language is fresh and immediate, and her use of her personal story breathes life into what is often thought of as the driest of Buddhist texts.”
—Joy Brennan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Kenyon College