Abhidhamma is the title given to the third and last collection of the Tripitaka or the three divisions of the Buddhist canonical books. Traditionally Abhidhamma Pitaka is mentioned after the Vinaya Pitaka and Sutta Pitaka. The Buddist tradition is the it was first taught in heaven by the Buddha himself for the benefit of other gods. Later it was handed down buy the Buddha’s disciples. But when considered historically and logically Abhidhamma is certainly a later development of the doctrines taught by the Budha.

The term Abhidhamma is made up the two terms ‘abhi’ and ‘dhamma’ and these two terms when used as a conjoined term is traditionally translated as ‘Special Dhamma’ or ‘Supplementary Dhamma’. This also shows that Abhidhamma is based on the Dhamma and that it is a development of the Dhamma. Abhidhamma was accepted as a part of the Buddhist Canon at the Third Council held in India under the chairmanship of Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa. Abhidhamma consist of seven books and its last book namely, kathavatthuppakarana was composed by Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa himself. Therefore, it is seen that the development of Abhidhamma took place gradually avd extended over a considerably long period of time. Inspite of its late development the Abhidhamma pitaka is regarded with the same veneration shown to the other two Pitakas. It is considered as containing the essence of the philosophy of Buddh’s teaching.

There is a marked difference in the stle of the lsnguage and presentation between the Sutta and Abhidhamma Pitaka. The Sutta Pitaka contains discourses given by the Buddha under various circumstances, to groups of listeners consisting of different types of people. Some of these people were clever and quick to understand, and others were not so clever and were slow in understanding. To suit such complex audiences the Buddha taught the Dhamma in a very descriptive style. He used similies, metapors, stories and so on. He did not use a precise language, but taught the Dhamma using the style of ordinary conversation. It is seen that this style of preaching sometimes led to misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Dhamma. Thus in the Sutta the Buddha uses the terms ‘I’, ‘mine’, ‘you’, ‘man’, ‘woman’ and such other terms without much precsion. The use of such terms led to the belief in a permanent, unchanging entity similar to the ‘self’, which in fact is rejected in Buddhism.

When the monks became more inclined to learn the Dhamma, they found that this somewhat descriptive style of language was not suited to present the essence of the Buddh’a philosophy. They described this style of preaching as the discursive and explanatory style of preaching which in Pali is called Sappariyaya-desana. They attempted to take out from these descriptive discourses the essence of the Buddha’s philosophical teaching and present it in a more systematic method, in a very precise, technical language. This style they called the Nippariyaya desena. These teachers of Abhidhamma who are generally known as Abhidhammikas made another distention between the teachings found in the Suttas and those found in the Abhidhamma. The former, they said, uses colloquial language (vohara-vacana), and deals about traditional or conventional truth (sammuti-sacca).the Abhidhamma teaching was defined as the teaching dealing with absolute teaching; ultimate reality (paramattha-desana). This distinction does not mean the teaching in the Abhidhamma Pitaka is a higher set of doctrines than those found in the Sutta Pitaka. This distinction refers only to the two distinct styles of presenting the teaching.

The primary object of Abhidhamma is to understand the nature of experience, that is , to understand about the individual and the world around him. In order to do this successfully Abhidhamma analyses existence into mind (citta), mental factors (cetasika), form (rupa). Finally it shows how through ethical development the mind attains final salvation (Nibbana). Thes four factors namely, mind, mental factors, form and Nibbana constitute the subject matter of Abhidhamma. Of these the first three are of this world and last is not worldly.

In the Abhidhamma explanation these four ‘dhamma’ are considered as ultimate realities (paramattha).but this does not mean that these factors are permanent entities. The term ‘paramattha’ is used in the sense of primary factors. These are the four primary factors into which our experiences can be finally reduced.the four ultimate realities consist of eighty-two categories. The mind is one category, mental factors are divided into fifty-two categories, matter or form is divided into twenty-eight categories. And Nibbanaq forms one category.

Abhidhamma presents these eighty-two categories in a non-descriptive, technical language and shows their numerous inter-relation, different functions and shades of meaning. The Abhidhamma Pitaka could be rightly described as the finest flower of Buddhist philosophy.