In Theravada Abhidhamma Pitaka there are four Ultimate Realities (paramattha dhammaa) mentioned,

  1. Citta
  2. Cetasika
  3. Rupa
  4. Nibbana

Is there any variations in these realities in other traditions of Buddhism?

5 Answers 5


The Theravāda school has 1 citta (arising in 89 or 121 combinations), 52 cetasika, 28 rūpa and 1 unconditioned element (Nibbāna). The Sarvāstivāda school had 1 citta, 60 cetasika, 11 rūpa and 3 unconditioned elements. The Sautrāntika school had 6 citta, 29 cetasika, 8 rūpa and 1 unconditioned element. The Yogācāra school had 8 citta, 75 cetasika, 11 rūpa and 6 unconditioned elements. Each of these schools used the same set of Suttas, but analyzed them in a different way, according to their own doctrines.

  • Citta is consciousness, but citta never arises alone, always together with a collection of cetasika (mental factors). The Dhammasaṅgaṇi lists 89 combinations. These combinations are grouped according to create new kamma / result of past kamma / functional (unrelated to kamma). These combinations are also grouped according to unwholesome / ethically neutral / beautiful. Among the 89 are 4 "path" and 4 "fruit". If we subdivide these according to the 5 jhāna, then we get 20 "path" and 20 "fruit" and the total increases from 89 to 121.
    – RobM
    Aug 23, 2015 at 15:30
  • @Lanka, oops I may have accidentally deleted your question... but I retyped my answer above
    – RobM
    Aug 23, 2015 at 16:35

There are those traditions that disregard pursuing an "ultimate reality." In Tools of Perception (and mp3), Thanissaro says:

There's a point where the perceptions have done their work and you put them aside. That's the correct use of all the different ideas and concepts that we pick up from the study of the dhamma. The incorrect use is to say there is an ultimate view of reality and there are conventional views of reality and what we're trying to do is get the ultimate view which describes things as they really are.

And so you latch on to those ideas: okay, this is ultimate reality and you hold on to it as if you could hold reality in words. But if you hold on to it with words, what are you doing with it?

His point being that even if you found an "ultimate" reality, what use is it compared to what your actions are? What use is having a mental description of something when the mind has not gone beyond suffering:

So we're not trying to get to an ultimate description of reality, we're trying to get to an end of suffering--two very different things.

  • 1
    I'm pretty sure that Thanissaro rejects the Abhidhamma, which is kind of a rejection of the Theravada, so... Jun 21, 2014 at 21:47
  • Edited my post to avoid mentioning Theravada altogether.
    – Caleb Paul
    Jun 21, 2014 at 21:57
  • I'm completely onboard with Thanissaro on this. I believe he presents what was Buddha's original position. Also, in Vajrayana, starting from Yogatantra level and up, there is no separation into ultimate and relative.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jun 22, 2014 at 2:56

Since you asked about "other traditions" I could not go by without mentioning Prajna-Paramita, a movement within early Mahayana that emerged as a reaction against Abhidhammists (personified by Sariputta) allegedly reifying dhammas as ultimately real.

According to Prajna-Paramita, the view of dhammas as having independent self-existence (despite Buddha explicitly declaring anatta as a characteristic of all conditioned phenomena without exception!) is yet another hindrance in the mind, leading to fear, confusion, and preventing awakening to (self-existing, unconditioned) Nirvana.

Instead, the only ultimate reality is said to be Shunyata, unity of form and emptiness, an umbrella term for Three Characteristics of Existence plus Nirvana.


This is one of classifications of paramartha dharmas. In (most) expanded form they also known as dharma lists. There is many variations in these lists between traditions. Sometimes traditions differ in content (if some element should be included in the list or not), sometimes in status of elements in there. Probably all four categories have difference in some or another tradition.


In my opinion there should be no changes from school to school.

Conventional reality is what is within the field of Perception. Ultimate reality is things not comprehended or understood within the field of Perception.

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