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What is Dhamma ? Dhamma is all conditioned and unconditioned phenomena. Dhamma also means different realities. Dhamma also means nature of things.

Take for example body , it is made up of parts. Dhamma is the body and it is made up of six senses and other body parts like heart , kidney, intestines etc . Each part can be called a Dhamma. However I read someone saying that Dhamma can not be made up of other Dhammas.

My question is : Can a Dhamma be made up of other Dhammas ?

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    Do you truly believe such a Question translates into workable English? To me, for one, the Question is doubtful and the exposition irreparably trips itself up with 'Dhamma is all conditioned and unconditioned phenomena. Dhamma also means different realities. Dhamma also means nature of things.' Whatever language you started from, to make that meaningful in English would take long chapters if not whole books. I truly believe that in an English forum, such as here, you might better ask 'How should Dhamma be translated'? Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 19:14

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The answer is different in different schools. In Theravada Abhidhamma, dhammas are atomic, not made from anything, and don't have more than one quality. According to Theravada Abhidhamma, all the variations we see in the world is due to the combinations of dhammas.

In Theravada Abhidhamma, there are 82 types of dhammas. That's it, you can find the list on the internet. Everything must fall under one of these.

In Theravada Abhidhamma things like "human body" are not dhammas but are labels we give to many-many dhammas arising and ceasing together.

So, for Theravada, the answer is "no, the dhammas are what we have on the official list of 82 types of dhammas and each of them exists by itself, not made from other dhammas"


Now, the answer is different in other schools of Buddhism. Soon after Buddha's parinirvana there was a school called Prajnaptivada that explained that every dhamma is basically just a concept in the observer's mind which separated a particular quality or thing from the rest and gave it a label. This is what makes dhammas unreliable (dukkha) because they are mere opinions of the observer, basically.

This idea of Prajnaptivada was later developed into the Yagacara's teaching of Vijnaptivada (every thing is just an idea) and Madhyamaka's concept of emptiness (things don't have solid existence from their own side). Both of these are different ways to explain the same basic idea.

In terms of their composition, Mahayana Adhidharma says that dharmas are always made from other dharmas. It's not a static state, instead all dharmas are constantly slowly changing like clouds, because the dharmas they are made from are also constantly changing and so on. This is why we have anicca.

But, what's very important to understand, if you closely look at any single dharma you cannot find anything stable and solid, you will only find more dharmas (not only smaller physical parts, but also external influences). This why we say dharmas are samskaras/sankharas - bundles of causes and conditions. Each of these causes and conditions is also a bundle of causes and conditions, and so forth ad infinitum. This is what we call anatta in the broad sense - dhammas don't have core.

Also, this means that if you look at a dharma up close you will see that both it's boundaries and everything inside is constantly shifting over time. So an idea of an entity is a kind of simplification of the real situation. The boundaries and the identities are abstractions assigned by us the observers, based on a rough snapshot taken from a certain perspective.

When we attach to our concepts and opinions about dharmas, we get blind to the actual situation in the real world. This is what the suffering comes from. This is why we say all dharmas are dukkha.

Now you can understand that Emptiness is just a short name for the full explanation of how things exist in the real world vs how the mind of the observer sees it, and this is where anicca, anatta, dukkha come from.

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    Some supporting info on what you called labels: From (Theravada) Abhidhamma in Practice by N.K.G. Mendis: "The material elements never occur in isolation but in groups or clusters called kalaapas. A kalaapa can contain from eight to thirteen material elements. There is no cluster of matter without at least eight elements, the four primary elements and four secondary elements — namely color, taste, smell, and nutriment. A unit containing only these is called a Pure Octad."
    – ruben2020
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 20:56
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A sankhara (conditioned and compounded phenomenon) is a type of dhamma (phenomenon).

Sankharas can be compounded i.e. made up of other sankharas.

Please see this essay by Ven. Bodhi entitled "Anicca Vata Sankhara".

My summary of sankhara from this essay:

Sankharas are "co-doings," things that act in concert with other things, or things that are made by a combination of other things. Ven. Bodhi uses "formations" or "volitional formations" as his preferred translation.

There are 3 uses of the term Sankhara in the scriptures:

  1. Second link in dependent origination - when ignorance and craving underlie our stream of consciousness, our volitional actions of body, speech, and mind become forces with the capacity to produce results, including "rebirth".
  2. The fourth of the five aggregates - volition regarding forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, and ideas. Also covers all factors of mind except feeling and perception.
  3. All conditioned and compounded things including mountains, fields, and forests; towns and cities; food and drink; jewelry, cars, and computers.

The only thing which is unconditioned and uncompounded is Nibbana.

Here's an example of compounded sankharas from the suttas:

Then the bhikkhuni Vajira, having understood, "This is Mara the Evil One," replied to him in verses:

Why now do you assume 'a being'?
Mara, have you grasped a view?
This is a heap of sheer constructions:
Here no being is found.

Just as, with an assemblage of parts,
The word 'chariot' is used,
So, when the aggregates are present,
There's the convention 'a being.'

It's only suffering that comes to be,
Suffering that stands and falls away.
Nothing but suffering comes to be,
Nothing but suffering ceases.

Then Mara the Evil One, realizing, "The bhikkhuni Vajira knows me," sad and disappointed, disappeared right there.
SN 5.10

The answer for all dhammas (in the sense of phenomena), except Nibbana, is yes, they are conditioned and compounded.

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  • Here again , it please modify the answer to give a clear yes or no. Thanks. Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 14:14
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I am not an expert in Pali but if we follow the English translation of the word, we can ask the following:

Can a phenomenon be made up of other phenomena? Can a process be made up of other processes? Can a thing be made up of other things?

In short, yes. But how useful is this? If I said to someone, “I have an idea that is made up of other ideas”. The natural reaction is to ask what specific idea is being referred to. The lack of specificity requires a further effort to elucidate the context in which the statement is made. Without further clarification, any discussion or debate is futile.

I would like to stress that the term, “dhamma” is at times too broad and unspecific. Follow-up efforts are usually needed to interrogate the context which it is used in order to get a clearer picture of the intentions and to avoid potential logical conundrums, misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

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Dhamma is a learned concept. Dhamma as a learned concept is impermanent and is a result of impermanent mind. When we come across word Dhamma , we must ask “Dhamma of what ?”

What is the Dhamma of body ? Its Dhamma is to take birth , age , decay and die. Its Dhamma is to meditate. Its Dhamma is to observe all using six senses. Its Dhamma is to run away from pain and unattractive and run towards pleasure and attractive. And so on.

When we say “ Dhamma of “ we are talking about some truth about an entity which may or may not have parts. Different parts can have different Dhammas and overall there can be a Dhamma which serves the purpose of all of its parts.

Therefore a Dhamma may or may not have parts or a Dhamma can or can not be made up of parts having their own Dhammas.

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  • Why are you answering your own question?
    – user13375
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 12:32
  • @YesheTenley yes . I understood Dhamma. It is a Truth which we learn. Truths can be made up of other truths. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 12:35
  • Again, why are you opening questions and then answering them yourself?
    – user13375
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 12:39
  • @YesheTenley Many times it happens that you understand something after sometime. Why are you asking this ? Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 12:53
  • It is bad form to answer your own question and against site policy
    – user13375
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 15:41

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