The concept of Svabhava in Abhidhamma

In the class hand-out for the Theravada Abhidhamma it is said that Svabhava is intrinsic nature of the dhammas however it is dependent on causes and conditions. On the other way, intrinsic nature is supposed to exist independently. How it is possible that an intrinsic nature be dependent on causes and conditions.

This post should categorize

This post should categorize under Theravada Abhidhamma, not Theravada Buddhism. Anyway, i asked my teacher Prof. Tilak to give his comment. Here it is.

It is the opinion of the Theravāda Abhidhamma that there is no difference between Dhamma and intrinsic nature (Sabhāva). They exist together. Dhammas are defined by virtue of sabāhva. That indicates that there is no dhamma without sabhāva and vice versa. That has been explained in the commentaries in the way that there is no entity called sabhāva distinct from Dhamma. (na ca sabhâvā añño dhammo nāma atthi. AbhMȚ.21). Therefore it can be said “Sabhāva is intrinsic nature of Dhamma”.
Dhammas are dependently originated, therefore intrinsic nature also naturally dependently originated. Visuddhimagga mentions that ‘Dhamma means but intrinsic nature.’ Therefore, intrinsic nature is not supposed to exist independently.
In the commentarial definition of Dhamma it is mentioned that “Dhammas are so called because they bear their intrinsic nature (sabhāva). (attano sabhâvaṃ dhâretiti dhammo’ DhsA.121-122)” This definition may convey at once the impression that the Dhamma and Sabhāva are two different things such as Dhamma is the bearer and sabhāva is that which is born by the Dhamma. The problem of this kind of definition is that Dhamma becomes the agent (atta) of sabhāva and that is against Buddhism. Duality between Dhamma and Sabhâva is only an attribution made for the convenience of definition. For in actual sense Dhamma and Sabhāva denote the same actuality.
That is why it is mentioned in the notes that the Commentaries also regularly equate dhammas with their intrinsic natures, using the terms Dhamma and Sabhāva interchangeably. And further mentioned that “Just as dhammas are psycho-physical events that occur dependently on appropriate conditions and qualities”. However, what we need to remember here is that this is so called “intrinsic nature” arises and exist in dependence on a multiplicity of conditions.

AbhMȚ- Abhidhamma-Mula-Țỉkā, ed.D.Paññāsāra and P. Wimaladhamma, Colombo, 1939.
DhsA- Dhammasaṅgaņỉ-Aṭṭhakathā (Atthasālinỉ), ed. E. Muller, PTS. reprinted 1979.

Thanks and a question

Thank you. Yes I tried to categorize it under Abhidhamma but I could not find this category. Maybe I made a mistake and could not see it. The point here us that literally svabhava means what which exists by itself. What is the definition of the intrinsic nature.If intrinsic nature is something dependent on conditions what is its difference with non-intrinsic nature? Do you mean that dhamma is nothing but its qualities by calling it intrinsic nature? If so we have dhammas with one qualities, so which one is the main quality of dhamma?

Prof. Tilak answered your

Prof. Tilak answered your questions;

1. What is the definition of intrinsic nature?

Intrinsic nature is its own nature. Dhammas are so called because they bear their own nature. Here the own nature means own characteristics (salakkhaņa). Earth Element (Paṭhavidhātu) has its intrinsic nature which is solidity (kakkhalalakkhaņā) hardness. In that way every dhamma has its own nature that is for the convenience of definition and identification.

2. If intrinsic nature is something dependent on conditions what is its difference with non intrinsic nature?

Empty (Suñña). There is no dharma with non intrinsic nature. That is where we can say “empty” (Suñña). With the intrinsic nature only any Dharma can be identified. If there is no intrinsic nature then what is the Dharma could be identified?

3. Do you mean that Dharma is nothing but its qualities by calling it intrinsic nature?

Yes, Dhammas have various qualities. These qualities have mentioned in the Abhidhamma as lakkhaņa (Characteristics). Therefore there are various characteristics such as: individual characteristics (paccattalakkaņa) special characteristics (visesalakkhaņa) etc. These are for the convenience of identification and definition.

4. If so we have dhammas with one qualities, so which one is main quality of Dharma?

There is no Dharma with one quality. Each Dhamma has various qualities. The main quality mentions as intrinsic nature. Exa:-Solidity itself is the earth element (Kakkhalalakkhaņāpaṭhavidhātu). There is no earth element (paṭhavidhātu) without solidity or hardness. Therefore we take ii as a major quality.