My sources are texts in the Tipi.taka, the Commentaries and the Saddaniti, a grammar written by the Thera Aggava.msa of Pagan, in 1154.
Jim and Dmytro provided me with the Pali texts.
The Meaning of Dhamma 1
One of the meanings of dhamma is gu.na, virtue or good quality. In different commentaries this is explained as kusala kamma different from akusala kamma. Kusala kamma is denoted as dhamma and akusala kamma is denoted as adhamma. We read in the Atthasaalinii, 38:
Na hi dhammo adhammo ca, ubho samavipaakino; dhamma, adhamma bear no equal fruit:
adhammo niraya.m neti, dhammo paapeti suggatin”ti, adhamma leads to hell, dhamma causes one to reach heaven,(theragaa. 304; jaa. 1.15.386).
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as gu.na, merit, virtue:
Channa.m buddhadhammaanan”ti-aadiisu gu.ne. In the passage such as “of the six special qualities of the Buddha”, dhamma means excellent quality, virtue.
The Meaning of Dhamma 2.
The second meaning given of dhamma is pariyatti: the wording of the teachings as contained in the Tipiìaka.
We read in the “Dhammapada Atthakataa 1.22:
‘Dhamma.m vo, bhikkhave, desessaami aadikalyaa.nan”ti (ma. ni. 3.420) aya.m desanaadhammo naama.
I shall teach you, monks, Dhamma that is beautiful in the beginning (middle and end), this is the dhamma of teaching.’
We read in the ‘Majjhima Nikaaya’ about the classification of the Tipi.taka as nine divisions:
“Idha pana, bhikkhave, ekacce kulaputtaa dhamma.m pariyaapu.nanti sutta.m geyyan”ti aya.m pariyattidhammo naama. (ma. ni. 1.239) Here, monks, some young men of good family learn thoroughly the dhamma: sutta, geyya, etc. This is the dhamma which is the wording of the teachings.”
The word of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Vinaya as taught by him, consists of nine divisions which are: Sutta, Geyya, Veyyåkaraùa, Gåthå, Udåna, Itivuttaka, Jåtaka, Abbhuta and Vedalla. The “Expositor”, Atthasåliní, Introductory Discourse, 26, gives a further explanation of this. The teachings as compiled (not yet written) literature are thus enumerated in the scriptures as nine divisions, for example in the “Middle Length Sayings” I, no. 22.
Sutta includes all Discourses, such as the “Mangala sutta” (”Good Omen Discourse “, Minor Readings, V), and also the Vinaya Piìaka and the Niddesa. In this classification the Vinaya is in the section of Sutta. The “Atthasåliní” mentions in this section on Sutta the Sutta-Vibha.nga and Parivaara, which belong to the Vinaya. Geyya includes all suttas with verses (gåthå), such as the Sagåthå-vagga of the Sa.myutta Nikåya or “Kindred Sayings”. Veyyåkaraùa or “Exposition” includes the Abhidhamma Pi.taka, the suttas without verses, and the words of the Buddha which are not included in the other eight divisions. Gåthå or “Verses”, include the Dhammapada, Theragaathaa, Theriigaathaa (Psalms of the Brothers and Sisters) and those parts of the Sutta-Nipaata not called Sutta and entirely in verse. Udaana or “Verses of Uplift” include eightytwo suttas connected with verses recited by the Buddha, inspired by knowledge and joy. Itivuttaka or “As it was said” includes hundred and ten suttas beginning with “Thus it was said by the Blessed One”. Jaataka or Birth Stories include fivehundred and fifty stories of the past lives of the Buddha and his disciples, beginning with the “Apa.n.naka Jaataka”.
Abbhuta, “Marvellous”, includes suttas connected with wonderful and marvellous things (dhammas with extraordinary qualities, which are amazing). Vedalla includes suttas with questions and answers which have as result understanding and delight, such as the “Cullavedallasutta”.
There are different ways of classifying the Tipi.taka. In the “Baahiranidaana” (Introductory chapter of the Commentary to the Vinaya, by Buddhaghosa), it is explained that the teachings as a whole have been laid down as:
“This is the Dhamma and this is the Vinaya, these are the first, intermediate and final sayings of the Buddha, these are the Vinaya, Sutta and Abhidhamma Pi.takas, these are the Nikaayas from Diigha to Khuddaka, these are the nine a.ngas commencing with Sutta and these are the eighty-four thousand Units of the Dhamma,” was rehearsed together by the assembly of self-controlled monks with Mahaakassapa as their leader verily observing this distinction.”
Thus, whenever the Dhamma and the Vinaya are referred to, the Abhidhamma is included in “Dhamma”.
The following meaning of dhamma explained in the Dhammapada-Atthakata, is dhamma as an entity without a living soul (nissatta, nijjiva):
“Tasmi.m khopana samaye dhammaa honti, khandhaa hontii”ti (dha. sa. 121)
Then, at that time dhammas occur, khandhas occur.
aya.mnissattadhammo naama, nijjiivadhammotipi eso eva.
this is dhamma without living being (non-substantial), it is also merely dhamma without life.
Tesu imasmi.m .thaane nissattanijjiivadhammo adhippeto.
As to these, dhamma devoid of a living soul is meant in this case.
So atthato tayo aruupino khandhaa vedanaakkhandho sa~n~naakkhandho sa’nkhaarakkhandhoti.
As to the meaning of this, there are the three mental aggregates of feeling, remembrance and formations (all cetasikas apart from feeling and remembrance).
N: Remark: the text quoted from the Dhammasangani (first Book of the Abhidhamma) states:
[quote] “At the time of consciousness coming into existence, there occur dhammas.” Thus, the aggregate of consciousness (vi~n`naa.nakkhandha) which is also a mental aggregate, is mentioned first, and then the other three mental aggregates denoted as dhammas are explained. If we do not see the whole context we may not understand why three mental aggregates are mentioned separately. All five khandhas are devoid of a living being
The “Atthasaalinii” (38, Co. to the Dhammasangani) summarizes different meanings of the word dhamma:
Dhammasaddo panaaya.m pariyatti-hetu-gu.na-nissatta-nijjiivata-adiisu dissati.
And the word dhamma is used in the sense of scriptural text (pariyatti), virtue (gu.na), absence of an entity, living thing (nissatta, nijjiva), etc.
Aya~nhi “dhamma.m pariyaapu.naati sutta.m geyyan”ti-aadiisu (a. ni. 4.102) pariyattiya.m dissati.
In such passages as, “This one studies the Dhamma, the Sutta and the Geyya… dhamma means “the Scriptures”.
“Hetumhi ~naa.na.m dhamma pa.tisambhidaa”ti-aadiisu (vibha. 720) hetumhi.
In such passages as ,”Knowledge of root-conditions is analysis of dhamma (pa.tisambhidaa)-dhamma means root-condition or cause.”
“Na hi dhammo adhammo ca, ubho samavipaakino;
adhammo niraya.m neti, dhammo paapeti suggatin”ti.
(theragaa. 304; jaa. 1.15.386)
In such passages as “dhamma, adhamma bear no equal fruit: adhamma leads to hell, dhamma causes one to reach heaven[/i]”, dhamma means “virtue” or “good quality”.
“dhammesu dhammaanupassii viharatii”ti-aadiisu (dii. ni. 2.302) nissattanijjiivataaya.m.
and again, “he abides contemplating dhammas as dhammas”-dhamma implies absence of an entity or living soul.”….
Remarks: The last sentence refers to the fourth Application of Mindfulness: contemplating dhammas as dhammas. All objects of mindfulness which have not been classified in the first three Applications of Mindfulness are classified in the fourth Application of Mindfulness. This Application includes the cetasikas which are the five hindrances, it includes the five khandhas, the six internal and the six external aayatanas (sense-bases), the seven factors of enlightenment and the four noble Truths. These are all dhammas without a living soul, they are not a person, not a being, not self.
As we have seen in the Atthasaalinii, dhamma can also mean hetu:
Hetumhi ~naa.na.m dhamma pa.tisambhidaa”ti-aadiisu (vibha. 720) hetumhi.
In such passages as ,”Knowledge of root-conditions is analysis of dhamma -dhamma means root-condition or cause.”
This text refers to the “Book of Analysis”, Vibhanga, the second Book of the Abhidhamma, which deals with the four analytic insights, patisambhidaa:
- insight of attha *, result (of a cause).
- insight of dhamma: condition or cause.
- insight of nirutti, of the language corresponding to reality, expressing attha and dhamma.
- insight of patibhaana: of illumination, of confidence of speech. It is the knowledge of the three above mentioned knowledges in all details.
(See dict of Ven. Nyanatiloka).
Arahats with the highest distinction were endowed with the four patisambhidas. There are different degrees of them. The Buddha’s chief disciples did not have them in the same degree as the Buddha, and the other arahats had them in a lesser degree than the chief disciples.
The Vibhanga states according to the knowledge of attha and knowledge of dhamma with regard to the four Truths:
Knowledge of suffering (dukkha) is analytical knowledge of consequence (attha); knowledge of the cause of suffering is analytical knowledge of origin (dhamma); knowledge of the cessation of suffering is analytical knowledge of consequence; knowledge of the way leading to the cessation of suffering is analytical knowledge of origin…
Thus, in these texts dhamma as hetu, condition or cause has been referred to. Also in the “Pa.tisambhidaamagga”, the Path of Discrimination, the four analytical knowledges have been explained. In the Anguttara Nikaaya, Book of the Sevens, IV, 37, we read about seven conditions leading to the four “analyses”. We read at the end:
Monks, Saariputta is so endowed and abides accepting and realizing by his own knowledge the four analyses…
- Attha has many meanings, this word can designate: purpose, meaning, but also result or consequence.
The Saddaniti gives the same meanings of dhamma as stated in the Atthasaalinii, but in addition it gives several more meanings of dhamma.
Dhammasaddo pariyatti-hetu-gu.na-nissatta-nijjiivata-adiisu dissati.
The word dhamma is explained as the scriptures, cause, merit, without a being, without a soul, etc.
The Saddaniti refers for the meaning of hetu, cause, to the analytical knowledge of cause, dhammapa.tisambhidaa. The Saddaniti then gives another list which has in addition several more meanings of dhamma:
Atha vaa dhammasaddo
And then the word dhamma is explained as follows:
with its own specific nature, understanding, merit, concept, disciplinary offense, scriptures,
nissatta-nijjiivataa-vikaara-gu.na paccaya-paccayuppanna-adiisu dissati.
without a being, without a living soul, alteration, merit, condition, what is conditioned., etc.
The Saddaniti gives a further explanation of the different meanings:
Aya~nhi “kusalaa dhammaa akusalaa dhammaa abyaakataa dhammaa”ti-aadiisu sabhaave dissati.
In the passage “wholesome dhammas, unwholesome dhammas and indeterminate dhammas”, this is explained as: with its own specific nature (or characteristic).
N: In the Books of the Abhidhamma all realities are classified as threefold: kusala, akusala and abyaakataa, or avyaakataa. Avyaakata means not declared, not determined. They are not determined as kusala nor as akusala, they are indeterminate.
Kusala dhammas are the kusala cittas with their accompanying cetasikas (mental factors). Akusala dhammas are the akusala cittas with their accompanying cetasikas. Indeterminate dhammas are: vipaakacittas (cittas which are results of kamma) and their accompanying cetasikas. Kiriyacittas, inoperative cittas, cittas which are neither cause (kusala or akusala) nor result, with their accompanying cetasikas. Ruupa, physical phenomena and nibbaana.
For example, in the First Book of the Abhidhamma, the Dhammasangani, Book III, Part I, Ch 1, we read about this triple classification of all realities. They are all dhammas each with their own specific characteristic, sabhaava.
The Saddaniti states with regard to the meaning of dhamma as pa~n~naa:
Yassete caturo dhammaa, saddhassa gharamesino;
For the householder with confidence there are these four dhammas:
sacca.m dhammo dhiti caago, sa ve pecca na socatii”ti
truth, dhamma, courage and generosity, and he truly does not grieve after dying.
In such passages dhamma refers to wisdom.
N: words: caturo: here : cattaro (PED): four.
saddhaa: faith, confidence.
sacca (n): truth.
dhiti (f): courage, energy.
caaga (m): liberality, generosity.
sa: instead of so (PED): he.
socati: to grieve.
pecca: after dying.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as pu~n~na, merit, by the same passage as used by the Atthasaalinii to explain dhamma as gu.na, merit:
Na hi dhammo adhammo ca, ubho samavipaakino;
dhamma and adhamma bear no equal fruit:
adhammo niraya.m neti, dhammo paapeti suggatin”ti
adhamma leads to hell, dhamma causes one to reach heaven.
The Saddaniti explains the meaning of dhamma as concept:
Pa~n~nattidhammaa, niruttidhammaa,adhivacanaadhammaa”ti-aadiisu pa~n~nattiya.m.
In such passages as dhamma that is a designation, dhamma that is an expression, dhamma that is a term, dhamma means concept.
pa~n~natti : designation, name, idea, notion.
adhivacana (n): term, attribute
nirutti (f): interpretation, expression.
The word pa~n~natti, concept, stands for name and for the idea expressed by a name or term. Names can designate what is reality in the absolute sense (paramattha dhammas, such as kusala, akusala, sound, etc.) and also what is not real in the absolute sense, such as person, house.
The Saddaniti explains the meaning of dhamma as aapatti as follows:
Paaraajikaa dhammaa, sa’nghaadisesaa dhammaa”ti-aadiisu aapattiya.m.
In passages such as disciplinary offenses involving defeat (paaraajika), and those involving a formal meeting of the order (sa’nghaadisesa), dhamma refers to disiplinary offense (aapatti).
N: In the Vinaya, Suttavibha’nga, four kinds of offenses involving defeat are dealt with: sexual misbehaviour, stealing, killing and lying. When a monk transgresses in these ways he is no longer a monk.
The offenses which are classified as sa’nghaadisesa are of a lesser degree but still require a formal meeting of the Sangha so that the disciplinary measures to be taken can be decided upon.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as pariyatti, the scriptures and dhamma as nissattanijjiivataa, without a being, without a living soul, in the same way as the Atthasaalinii (38). We read with regard to dhamma as pariyatti:
Idha bhikkhu dhamma.m jaanaati sutta.m geyya.m veyyaakara.nan”ti-aadiisu pariyattiya.m.
In such passages as “Here a monk knows dhamma as sutta, geyya, veyyaakara, etc.” dhamma means the scriptures.
We read with regard to dhamma as nissattanijjiivata:
Tasmi.m kho pana samaye dhammaa honti.
At that time there are dhammas.
Dhammesu dhammaanupassii viharatii”ti-aadiisu nissattanijjiivataaya.m.
He abides contemplating dhammas in dhammas, in such passages dhamma refers to: without a being, without a living soul.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as vikaara, alteration, subject to change:
Jaatidhammaa jaraadhammaa mara.nadhammaa”ti-aadiisu vikaare.
In such passages as dhammas as birth, as decay, as death, dhamma means alteration.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as gu.na, merit, virtue:
Channa.m buddhadhammaanan”ti-aadiisu gu.ne.
In the passage such as “of the six dhammas of the Buddha”, dhamma means excellent quality, virtue.
The PED mentions under buddhadhamma, that they are classified as six or as eighteen.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as condition, paccaya, in the same way as hetu, cause, when it refers to the analytical knowledge of cause, dhammapa.tisambhidaa:
Hetumhi ~naa.na.m dhammapa.tisambhidaa”ti-aadiisu paccaye.
In such passage as “the knowledge of cause is analytical knowledge of dhamma”, dhamma means cause.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as what is subject to conditions, paccayupanna, as follows:
.Thitaavasaa dhaatu dhamma.t.thitataa dhammaniyaamataa”ti-aadiisu paccayuppanne.
In the passage such as “An element that is beyond control because of the causal law of dhamma, the natural order of dhamma”, dhamma means what is subject to conditions.
.thita: firm, fixed.
vaasa: condition, control.
avaasa: without control.
niyaama: natural order.
Ven. Nyanatiloka explains niyaama:
Fixedness of Law regarding all things.
There is a fivefold natural order, that governs:
- temperature, season.
- plant life.
- functions of citta in the processes.
- certain events occurring in the lives of the Buddhas.
N: As regards kamma: akusala kamma produces an undesirable result and kusala kamma produces a desirable result, and this is niyaama, a fixed order of dhammas. It cannot be altered.
As regards functions of citta: cittas which experience objects through the senses and the mind-door arise in series or processes of citta. Each of the cittas arising in a process performs its own function. For example, when cittas in the eye-door process experience visible object, seeing-consciousness performs the function of seeing, and shortly afterwards kusala cittas or akusala cittas arise in that process, which perform their own function. There is a certain fixed order of cittas, citta niyama, within a process and this order cannot be altered.
The “Gradual Sayings” (I, 285) Ch XIV, §134, Appearance states:
Monks, whether there be an appearance or non-appearance of a Tathaagata, this causal law of nature (dhaatudhamma.t.thitataa), this orderly fixing of things (dhammaniyaamataa) prevails, namely, All phenomena are impermanent…
The same is said with regard to the nature of dukkha and anattaa.
The Saddaniti mentions further on more meanings of dhamma. Some of them have been classified already and some of them not yet:
Atha vaa dhammasaddo pariyatti-sacca-samaadhi-pa~n~naa-pakati-pu~n~na-apatti-~neyya-adiisu
And then the word dhamma means: scriptures, truth, concentration, wisdom, nature, merit, disciplinary offense, that which can be known, and so on.
bahuusu atthesu di.t.thappayogo.
Its application is seen in many meanings.
payoga (m): means, undertaking, practice.
di.t.tha: seen, understood.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as scriptures:
Tathaa hi “idha bhikkhu dhamma.m pariyaapu.naatii”ti-aadiisu pariyattiya.m dissati.
Thus, in a passage as “Here a monk learns the dhamma thoroughly”, the word dhamma is to be seen as the scriptures.
pariyaapu.naati: to master, learn thoroughly.
dissati: it seems, appears.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as sacca, truth:
“Di.t.thadhammo pattadhammo”ti-aadiisu sacce.
In such passages as “The dhamma that is understood, the dhamma that is realized”, dhamma means truth.
Word: patta : p.p. of paapu.nati: to attain.
The Commentary to the “Muulapariyaayasutta”, Discourse on the Synopsis of Fundamentals, (M I, 1, translated by Ven. Bodhi as “The root of Existence”, B.P.S.), several meanings of dhamma are explained.
Sacca, truth is explained in a similar passage: “He saw the Dhamma, understood the Dhamma” (D. 13) -in the sense of the (four noble) Truths.
The word dhamma as samaadhi, concentration is explained:
“Eva.mdhammaa te bhagavanto ahesun”ti-aadiisu samaadhimhi.
In the passage of “Those Exalted Ones were of such dhammas” dhamma refers to concentration.
This is said in the Commentary to the “Muulapariyaayasutta”, and here is a reference to D. 13.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as pa~n~naa, wisdom, in the same way as above, classified under the four virtues of a householder:
“Sacca.m dhammo dhiti caago”ti evamaadiisu pa~n~naaya.m.
In a passage such as “truth, dhamma, courage and generosity” dhamma refers to wisdom.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as nature (pakati):
“Jaatidhammaana.m bhikkhave sattaanan”ti evamaadiisu pakatiya.m.
In such passages as “Living beings, monks, are of a nature to be born”, dhamma refers to nature.
The Commentary to the “Muulapariyaayasutta” states about dhamma as nature:
“Of a nature to be born, of a nature to grow old, of a nature to die” (D. 22.)
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as pu~n~na, virtue:
“Dhammo have rakkhati dhammacaarin”ti evamaadiisu pu~n~ne.
In a passage such as “The dhamma truly protects the person who practises it”, dhamma refers to virtue.
The Commentary to the “Muulapariyaayasutta” explains: “Dhamma well-practised issues in bliss” (Sn.v. 184), dhamma means merit (or kusala), gu.na.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as disciplinary offense in a similar way as above:
“Cattaaro paaraajikaa dhammaa”ti-aadiisu aapattiya.m.
In passages such as “four disciplinary offenses involving defeat (paaraajika)”, dhamma means disciplinary offense.
The Saddaniti explains dhamma as knowable (neyya):
“Kusalaa dhammaa”ti-aadiisu ~neyye.
In a passage such as “wholesome dhammas etc.” the word dhamma means what is knowable, what is to be known.
N: Neyya: gerund of neti: to lead, guide, understand. Neyya: to be instructed, understood
With the expression, ‘Kusalaa dhammaa”ti-aadiisu’, the text refers not only to kusalaa dhammaa, but also to akusalaa dhammaa and abyaakataa dhammaa (indeterminate, neither kusala nor akusala) and these are to be known, neyyaa.
As we have seen, in the Abhidhamma all that is real, inside or outside, is classified as these three dhammas. They are sabhaava, they each have their own specific nature (or characteristic), and these characteristics are unalterable. Kusala is always kusala, akusala is always akusala. They are not abstractions: when their specific characteristics appear, they are are to be understood, neyya. Their true nature can be known.
Also the Commentary to the “Muulapariyaayasutta” explains dhamma as neyya:
And in the passage: “All dhammas in all their modes enter the threshold of the Exalted One’s portal of knowledge,” it is the knowable. Here the word occurs in the sense of things endowed with a specific nature (sabhaava). This is the word-meaning: “They bear their own characteristics, thus they are dhammas” (attano lakkha.na.m dhaarentii ti dhammaa).
The word dhamma is associated with dhaareti: to bear.
pavatti (f): occurrence, procedure.
yutti (f): correctness, what is suitable, application
nesa: na+esa. (esa stands for eso.)
paticca: dependent on (gerund of pacceti: to come to, find one’s hold in), with accusative.
The Saddaniti states after the definitions as given above:
Eva.m dhammasaddappavattivisayaa vividhaa a.t.thakathaacariyehi dassitaa, tattha tattha pana aadisaddena yuttivisayaadayo ca atthaa gahetabbaa.
The teachers of the commentary have thus explained the various passages where the word ‘dhamma’ is used, and the meanings of the range of applications etc. with the expression ‘and so on’ occurring in various places, should be comprehended.
The expression aadi is used in many passages to indicate that the explanation is not exhaustive. Not all passages where the word dhamma occurs are mentioned, but from the example that is given, the meaning can be understood.
The Saddaniti gives more definitions of dhamma. It explains dhamma as what is correct, what is suitable:
Tathaa hi dhammasaddo-“Nesa dhammo mahaaraaja, ya.m tva.m gaccheyya ekako; ahampi tena gacchaami, yena gacchasi khattiyaa”ti aadiisu yuttiya.m vattati.
Thus there the word dhamma means what is suitable in passages such as:
It is not dhamma (fitting) great king, that you would go alone I shall also go where you, being of the warrior caste, shall go.”
The Saddaniti then explains dhamma as object of citta:
“Mana~nca pa.ticca dhamme ca uppajjati manovi~n~naa.nan”ti-aadiisu visaye.
Dependent on the mind[-door] and objects arises mind-consciousness,
in such passages dhamma refers to object.
N: This passage occurs for example in the “Kindred Sayings” (IV, 85, Loko: the world).
The words citta, mano and vi~n~naa.na are the same in meaning, they are the paramattha dhamma that is citta, consciousness. We read in the “Kindred Sayings” (II, Nidaana-sa.myutta, Ch VII, 61:
Ya.m ca kho eta.m bhikkhave vuccati citta.m iti pi mano iti pi vi~n~na.m iti pi…
Yet this, monks, what we call indeed thought (citta), mind, consciousness (by this the untaught manyfolk are not able to feel repelled)…
However, in different contexts there is a differentiation of terms. The aggregate of consciousness is called vi~n~naa.nakkhandha, and it includes all cittas. For seeing-consciousness, the word cakkhuvi~n~naa.na is used.
Mano stands here for the citta which is the mind-door. Cittas which experience objects through the senses and the mind-door arise in processes: the eye-door process, the other sense-door processes and the mind-door process. In between these processes bhavangacittas (life-continuum) arise and fall away, and these do not experience an object through one of the six doors. Their function is preserving the continuity in the life of an individual. The last bhavangacitta arising before the mind-door process begins is the mind-door. The mind-door is the means through which citta experiences an object in that process.
Thus, returning to the relevant passage where dhamma is explained as object of citta:
“Mana~nca pa.ticca dhamme ca uppajjati manovi~n~naa.nan”ti….
Dependent on the mind-door (mano) and objects (dhamma arises mind-consciousness (manovi~n~naa.na)…