As such, the four great elements are conceptual abstractions drawn from the sensorium. They are sensorial typologies, and are not metaphysically materialistic. From this perspective, they are not meant to give an account of matter as constitutive of external, mind-independent reality
Note: Noa Ronkin, Early Buddhist Metaphysics the Making of a Philosophical Tradition. Routledge, 2005, page 56.
-Wikipedia page on Mahabhuta
According to Ronkin, the canonical Pāli Abhidhamma remains pragmatic and psychological, and “does not take much interest in ontology” … Ronkin does note however that later Theravāda sub-commentaries (tika) do show a doctrinal shift towards ontological realism from the earlier epistemic and practical concerns.
Note: Ronkin, Noa; Early Buddhist Metaphysics , p. 77
Similarly, Noa Ronkin argues that in Theravāda Abhidhamma, "sabhāva is predominantly used for the sake of determining the dhammas’ individuality, not their existential status.
Note:Ronkin, Noa; Early Buddhist Metaphysics , p. 111
-Wikipedia on Theravada Abhidhamma
“All form is that which is…
void of idea,
neither feeling, nor perception, nor synthesis,
disconnected with thought,”
“form exists which is not due to karma having been wrought”
Points of Controversy
9.3 Of Matter as Subjective
Controverted Point: Whether matter should be termed subjective or objective.
Theravādin: If that is so, you must also affirm of matter or body, that it has the mental features of “adverting”, ideating, reflecting, co-ordinated application, attending, willing, anticipating, aiming—things which you would, on the contrary, deny of matter.
All, or any of them you can rightly affirm of mental properties, such as contact (mental reaction), feeling, perception, volition, cognition, faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, understanding, lust, hate, illusion, conceit, erroneous opinion, doubt, mental inertia, distraction, immodesty, indiscretion—all of which you admit as subjective. But matter is not one of these, and therefore such things may not be affirmed of it.
You deny in the case of matter all those mental features—adverting, etc.—but claim for it the term “subjective”, which is really applicable to “contact”, sensation, etc. These, as you admit, do not lack those mental features named.
Uttarāpathaka: But is not matter correlated (as an object)? Of course you assent. Then as correlated it is surely right to apply the term “subjective” to matter, etc. since “object” is one of the twenty-four (causal) relations.
“If, friends, internally the eye is intact but no external forms come into its range, and there is no corresponding conscious engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness. If internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range, but there is no corresponding conscious engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness. But when internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range and there is the corresponding conscious engagement, then there is the manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness.” “Now there comes a time when the external water element is disturbed. It carries away villages, towns, cities, districts, and countries.”
And, of course, there are plenty more quotes in the Abhidhamma pitaka, and Kathavatthu, and the suttas, as well, that make it abundantly clear that the composers of these texts did see dhammas, just as the later commentators, as objectively real, and rejected subjective idealism. Why does Ronkin seem oblivious to this fact, and promote viewing the Abhidhamma, at best, as a form of skepticism, and, at worst, as a form of subjective idealism, thus reducing the paramattha dhammas (ultimate realities) to mere unknown, indeterminate sensory qualities (ie. not at all ultimate realities), or imaginary things (the opposite of ultimate realities), despite these clear and obvious statements in the Abhidhamma? How could Ronkin read that the specifically delineated as external Mahabhuta of water can destroy countries, and then claim that the Abhidhamma teachings based on the suttas, that also clearly state that matter is disconnected from thought do not denote an external, mind independent reality?
In what world is an external Mahabhuta of water, that is disconnected with thought, and powerful enough to cause natural disasters, not referencing an external, mind independent reality? In fact, this very statement contains contradictions, clearly. Unless I have some serious difficulties with simple logic, and basic English, something is fishy here.
Is Ronkin a crypto-Yogacara apologist, acting under the guise of an expert presenting Theravada Abhidhamma?