Ajahn Brahm’s quite interesting position on "too much Dharma" and studying Abhidharma might be conveyed in this citation:
I think of our modern age is that too much Dhamma. So much Dhamma that you get really confused. So, just keep it easy Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path. Keep it simple and if you keep it simple - it [is] much, much, much easier.
That gets too much, it gets so much that people get confused. So, that's reason why they don't get enlightened. Keep it simple.
You can actually see that [in Abhidhamma] language - those concepts they didn't arise until a couple of centuries after the time of the Buddha. So, even the language shows you it's much later. You know that's great relief you don't have to study all of that very very difficult stuff. You have to be like a professor to learn the Abhidharma sometimes. It's so complex. Keep it simple - Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, meditate. That's all the Gunpowder you need, so keep it going.
Not only Ajahn Brahm, but also Ajahn Sumedho seem to also reduce the Buddhist practise to bare minimum, to repeating “Let go” for the first number years of his practise, which is similar to general teachings of Zen/Chan and experiential Dzogchen approach as well.
Given that obsession is clinging and clinging is suffering - then, truly, for Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, Dharma cannot be realised and experienced merely through reason. Thus, theoretically, sets of teachings might be double edged sword for own progression.
There seems to be common ground in Mahayna with Ajahn Brahm’s claim. Quoting important piece that is a complementary reading to Heart Sutra, a Diamond Cutter sutra:
Moreover, Subhuti, when a bodhisattva practices generosity, he does not rely on any object—any form, sound, smell, taste, tactile object, or dharma—to practice generosity. That, Subhuti, is the spirit in which a bodhisattva practices generosity, not relying on signs. Why? If a bodhisattva practices generosity without relying on signs, the happiness that results cannot be conceived of or measured.
In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, you can see the Tathagata.
Subhuti, a bodhisattva who still depends on notions to practice generosity is like someone walking in the dark. She will not see anything. But when a bodhisattva does not depend on notions to practice generosity, she is like someone with good eyesight walking under the bright light of the sun. She can see all shapes and colors
We know that Buddha didn’t coin a great deal of technical terms and vocabulary that did arise as attempts of explanation. As such, many things were imputed to Buddha, according to many scholars. The extent of it I don’t dare to bring up as such is not a nature of this post. Yet, we can deduce that most of the practitioners that attained Arahantship in Buddha’s times had in majority followed practical and minimalistic Buddha’s advice. That is at least what Suttas depict intuitively, rather than operating in terse sets of lexical and intellectual frameworks.
In conclusion, several questions arise:
- What is the barrier and to what extent do we need to understand things by intellect? Is it not true that just Four Noble truths, a simple teaching, can alone lead us to liberation, quoting Ajahn Brahm?
- Is such complexity and variety of modern Dharma why there aren’t more Arahants these times? Because of “Too much Dharma” ? Is this what really sets Buddhists apart from Enlightenment? Getting attached and clinging to ideas rather the simplicity of a “very simple teaching” of Four Noble Truths?
- Should we all study, for example Abhidharma? Buddha did not - he sat down for 49 days under a Bodhi tree, without reading anything of sorts. So, maybe abandoning reliance on sings and concepts yields greater benefit to us?
- Is it safe to say that a frustration of imbalance between our ideal, imagined, conceptual realisation causes suffering due to unmet expectations of the actual current experience? Is it then correct that we best incrementally broaden knowledge slowly, in tandem with progressive experience, because such balance leads to better sanity?