Abhidharma (ŭb´Ĭdŭr´mə) [Skt.,=higher dharma, or doctrine], schools of Buddhist philosophy. Early Buddhism analyzed experience into 5 skandhas or aggregates, and alternatively into 18 dhatus or elements. Later schools developed the process of analysis and classification that was called Abhidharma; their treatises were collected in the Abhidharmapitaka, one of the three main divisions of the Pali Buddhist canon (see Buddhist literature, Pali canon). The five skandhas analyzed experience to demonstrate the absence of an abiding
The categories of analysis were dharmas, or natures, ultimate qualities or principles that arise and pass away in irreducible moments of time. Lists of dharmas varied from 75 to 157, with different schools classifying the dharmas into different groups, and the exact definition of a dharma eventually became the subject of great controversy. The greatest systematizer of Abhidharma thought was Vasubandhu (5th cent. AD), who wrote the encyclopedic Abhidharma-kosa or Treasury of Abhidharma.
See H. Guenther, Philosophy and Psychology in the Abhidharma (1957); T. Stcherbatsky, The Central Conception of Buddhism (4th ed. 1970).