I never thought that my training in clinical psychology would one day leave me hunched over charts detailing the meditation of monks in India about 2,500 years ago. I also never imagined that such seemingly distant information could feel so applicable to my current life and work. And yet the Abhidharma—a series of ancient texts that monks used to remember the ideas of the Buddha—seems as relevant now as ever before.
I came to it by way of meditation, after spending years studying the roots of meditative practices and philosophies. Eventually, my Buddhist teacher recommended studying the Abhidharma, suggesting I might relate to its discipline and depth. The discipline part became apparent right away: Most of the material was dense, complicated, and so interwoven that it was hard to study one piece of it without referring to three or four other books. That's why the Abhidharma has generally only been studied by Buddhist academics and monks, and it has a reputation for being hopelessly esoteric and obscure.
But ancient Buddhists weren’t being abstract or theoretical just for the sake of it. With time, I have started to piece together their take-aways into useful, refreshing lessons to apply to my own life. In that sense, it has felt like a great puzzle.