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Clearly the proliferation of lists in early Buddhist literature has something to do with its being an oral literature, for lists are very powerful mnemonic devices. In the context of Indian culture, Buddhist literature is not unique in this regard: rather, early Indian literature as a whole was composed orally and only later became fixed in the form of written texts, and some degree of use of categorizations and lists is characteristic of traditional Indian learning. Buddhist literature, however, goes further in its use of lists: it proceeds with the principle of compiling lists within lists, creating a structure in which one list functions as a matrix for a whole series of further lists, each of which is then carefully analyzed. For instance, the list of the four noble truths subsumes the list of the noble eightfold path under the category of the fourth truth of the path to the cessation of suffering; the list of the noble eightfold path subsumes the list of the four applications of mindfulness i. Towards the close of the Nikaya period, Buddhist literature begins to employ the term matika to signify composite matrices for lists. The careful analysis of these complex lists and their sub-categories becomes the basis and literary characteristic of the third basket of the Pali Canon, the Abhidhamma-pitaka, and of the particular system of thought set out in those texts and their commentaries, i. To the outside observer, the proliferating lists of the Abhidhamma might seem artificial and ultimately meaningless. But, in fact, they provide a clue to the intimate relationship between memory, mindfulness and meditation in Buddhism. As Gethin explains, from its inception, Buddhism urges us to realize that our disease stems from our grasping at and fixing the world of experience.
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