Sarvastivada: Wikis


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The Sarvāstivāda were an early school of Buddhism that held to 'the existence of all dharmas in the past, present and future, the 'three times'. The Abhidharma Kosa-bhaṣya, a later text, states:

25c-d. He who affirms the existence of the dharmas of the three time periods [past, present and future] is held to be a Sarvastivadin.[1]

The Sarvāstivāda comprised two subschools, the Vaibhāṣika and the Sautrāntika. The Vaibhāṣika was formed by adherents of the Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra, comprising the orthodox Kasmiri branch of the Sarvāstivāda school. The Vaibhāśika-Sarvāstivāda, which had by far the most "comprehensive edifice of doctrinal systematics" of the early Buddhist schools,[2] was widely influential in India and beyond.[3]


Origination and history

According to scholar Charles Prebish,

There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the rise and early development of the Sarvastivadin school. On the one had, we have the tradition of Asokakakapoka’s council, stating that the schismatic group in the Sangha was expelled from Magadha, migrating to northwestern India and evolving into the Sarvastivadin school. On the other hand, we have the attempts of several scholars to ascribe the rise of the school to one of Asoka’s missions—that sending Majjhantika to Gandhara, an early seat of the school. This episode corresponds well with one Sarvastivadidn tradition stating that Madhyantika (the Sanskrit counterpart of the Pali Majjhantika) converted the city of Kasmir, which seems to have close ties with Gandhara. Still another tradition established a community of Sarvastivadin monks at Mathura, founded by the patriarch Upagupta. Be that as it may, until the reign of King Kanishka, around the turn of the Christian era, the history of the school is at best sketchy.[4]

The enjoyed the patronage of Kanishka, during which time they were greatly strengthened, and became one of the dominant shravaka sects for the next thousand years.[4]


Relation to the Mulasarvastivada

A number of theories have been posited by academics as to how the two are related, which Bhikkhu Sujato summaries as follows:

The uncertainty around this school has led to a number of hypotheses. Frauwallner’s theory holds that the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is the disciplinary code of an early Buddhist community based in Mathura, which was quite independent in its establishment as a monastic community from the Sarvāstivādins of Kaśmir (although of course this does not mean that they were different in terms of doctrine). Lamotte, opposing Frauwallner, asserts that the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya was a late Kaśmīr compilation made to complete the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya. Warder suggests that the Mūlasarvāstivādins were a later development of the Sarvāstivāda, whose main innovations were literary, the compilation of the large Vinaya and the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna Sūtra, which kept the early doctrines but brought the style up to date with contemporary literary developments. Enomoto pulls the rug out from all these theories by asserting that Sarvāstivādin and Mūlasarvāstivādin are really the same. Meanwhile, Willemen, Dessein, and Cox have developed the theory that the Sautrantikas, a branch or tendency within the Sarvāstivādin group of schools, emerged in Gandhāra and Bactria around 200 CE. Although they were the earlier group, they temporarily lost ground to the Kaśmīr Vaibhāśika school due to the political influence of Kaṇiṣka. In later years the Sautrantikas became known as Mūlasarvāstivādins and regained the ascendancy. I have elsewhere given my reasons for disagreeing with the theories of Enomoto and Willemen et al. Neither Warder nor Lamotte give sufficient evidence to back up their theories. We are leftwith Frauwallner’s theory, which in this respect has stood the test of time.[5]


Sarvastivada is a Sanskrit term, which can be glossed as: "the theory of all exists". The Pali equivalent is Sabbatthivada.

Although there is some dispute over how the word "sarvastivada" is to be analyzed, the general consensus is that it is to be parsed into three parts: sarva "all" or "every" + asti "exist" + vada "speak", "say" or "theory". This equates perfectly with the Chinese term, 說一切有部 shuōyīqièyǒu bù[6], which is literally "the sect that speaks of the existence of everything", as used by Hsuan Tsang and other translators.


Though the sarvastivadins would themselves claim that their teaching of ‘all exists’ (sarvasti) is a direct teaching of the Buddha himself, as shown by their attributing the earliest abhidharma texts to direct disciples of the Buddha, notably to Sariputra and constant reference to the sutras throughout, the school in its entirety is more rightly to be considered as part of the age of scholastic Buddhism. It was the most influential school in the northwestern part of India. In a Chinese context, the word abhidharma refers to the sarvastivada abhidharma, although at a minimum the Dharmaguptaka, Pudgalavada and Theravada also had abhidharmas. During the first century BC, in the Gandharan cultural area (consisting of Oddiyana, Gandhara and Bactria, Tokharistan, across the Khyber Pass), the sthaviriyas used Gandhari to write their literature in the Kharoṣṭhī script. During this time, the sarvastivada abhidharma primarily consisted of the Abhidharmahrdaya authored by Dharmashresthin, a native from Tokharistan, and the Ashtagrantha authored/compiled by Katyayaniputra. Both texts were translated by Samghadeva in 391 A.D. and in 183 A.D. respectively, but they were not completed until 390 in Southern China. Although the sarvastitva was the central thesis, there were different theories on how ‘sarvam’ and even ‘asti’ were actually to be explained and understood among the Gandharan diverse sarvastivadins. Vasubandhu’s Koshabhasya, an elaborate yoga manual based on the Hrdaya, describes four main theses on sarvasti: ‘There are four types of sarvastivadins accordingly as they teach a difference in existence (bhavanyathatva), a difference in characteristic (laksananyathatva), a difference in condition (avasthanyathatva), and mutual difference (anyonyathatva).

Later sarvastivada takes a combination of the first and third theses as its model. It was on this basis that the school’s doctrines were defended in the face of growing external, and sometimes even internal, criticism.

The doctrines of sarvastivada were not confined to ‘all exists’, but also include the theory of momentariness (ksanika), conjoining (samprayukta) and simultaneity (sahabhu), conditionality (hetu and pratyaya), the culmination of the spiritual path (marga), and others. These doctrines are all inter-connected and it is the principle of ‘all exists’ that is the axial doctrine holding the larger movement together when the precise details of other doctrines are at stake. The sarvastivada was also known by other names, particularly hetuvada and yuktivada. Hetuvada comes from hetu – ‘cause’, which indicates their emphasis on causation and conditionality. Yuktivada comes from yukti – ‘reason’ or even ‘logic’, which shows their use of rational argument and syllogism. When the sarvastivada school held a synod in Kashmira during the reign of Kanishka II (ca. 158-176), the Gandharan most important text, the Astagrantha of Katyayaniputra was rewritten in Sanskrit making necessary revisions. This revised text was now known as Jbanaprasthana, Course of Knowledge. Though the Gandharan Astagrantha had many vibhasas, the new Kashmira Astagrantha i.e. the Jnanaprasthana had a Sanskrit Mahavibhasa, compiled by the Kashmira sarvastivada synod. The Jnanaprasthana and its Mahavibhasa, which took more than a generation to complete, were then declared the Vaibhasika orthodoxy, said to be ‘Buddha’s word’, Buddhabhasita. This new Vaibhasika orthodoxy, however, was not readily accepted by the Gandharan sarvastivadins, though gradually they adapted their views to the new Kawmira orthodoxy. The Gandharan sarvastivadins used the same Vinaya from Mathura. As a matter of fact, their abhidharma was meant for meditational practices. They made use of the Hrdaya which is a manual for attaining arhat. However, the long Gandharan Vinaya was abridged to a Sanskrit Dashabhanavara in the Kashmira synod by removing the avadanas and jatakas, stories and illustrations. After the declaration of the Vaibhasika orthodoxy, the Gandharan non-vaibhasika sarvastivadins, the majority, were called ‘sautrantikas’(those who uphold the sutras) . Interestingly, the Kawmira orthodoxy, the Vaibhasikas disappeared in the later part of the 7th century. Subsequently, the old Gandharan sarvastivadins, the non-vaibhasika sautrantikas, were named ‘mulasarvastivadins’, who then at a later went to Tibet. It has been suggested that the minority Vaibhasikas were absorbed into the majority sautrantika sarvastivadins as a possible result of the latter’s adaptations. Moreover, Mishrakabhidharmahrdaya, a title which means that ‘sautrantika views were mixed with vaibhasika views’ was composed by Dharmatrata in the 4th century in Gandharan area. Vasubandhu (ca.350-430), a native from Purusapura in Gandhara, composed his Kowa based on this text and the Astagrantha. While in Kawmira, he wrote his karikas which were well received there but he faced intense opposition, notably from Samghabhadra, a leading sarvastivada pundit, when he composed his bhasya. By his bhasya, Vasubandhu made it clear to the Vaibhasikas that he was a sautrantika, which is why he was fiercely opposed by the sarvastivada vaibhasikas in Kawmira. In reply to Vasubhandhu’s bhasya, Samghabhadra wrote a text, the Nyananusara ‘according to reason’. This work is presently only extant in Chinese (from Xuanzang’s translation and little is known of it in English).

For a critical examination of the Sarvastivadin interpretation of the Samyuktagama, see David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism.[7] For a Sautrantika refutation of the Sarvastivadin use of the Samyuktagama, see Theodore Stcherbatsky, The Central Conception of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Word Dharma.[8]


Sutra pitika

Scholars at present have "a nearly complete collection of sutras from the Sarvāstivāda school"[9] thanks to a recent discovery in Afghanistan of roughly two-thirds of Dīrgha-Agama in Sanskrit. The Madhyama (T26, Chinese trans. Gotama Saṅghadeva) and Saṁyukta Agamas (T99, Chinese trans. Guṇabhadra) have long been available in Chinese translation. The Sarvāstivāda is therefore the only early school besides the Theravada for which we have a roughly complete sutra collection, although unlike the Theravada it has not all been preserved in the original language.


The Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma consists of seven texts. The texts of the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma are:

Following these, are the texts that became the authority of the Vaibhashikas, the Kasmiri Sarvastivada Orthodoxy:

Little research in English has been made in these texts.


  1. ^ de La Vallée Poussin, Pruden: Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣyām, Asian Humanities Press, 1988. Pg. 807
  2. ^ "one does not find anywhere else a body of doctrine as organized or as complete as theirs" . . ."Indeed, no other competing schools have ever come close to building up such a comprehensive edifice of doctrinal systematics as the Vaibhāśika." The Sautrantika theory of seeds (bija ) revisited: With special reference to the ideological continuity between Vasubandhu's theory of seeds and its Srilata/Darstantika precedents by Park, Changhwan, PhD thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 2007 pg 2
  3. ^ A Study of the Abhidharmahṛdaya: The Historical Development of the Concept of Karma In The Sarvāstivāda Thought. PhD thesis by Wataru S. Ryose. University of Wisconsin-Madison: 1987 pg 3
  4. ^ a b Buddhism: A Modern Perspective. Charles S. Prebish. Penn State Press: 1975. ISBN 0271011955 pg 42-43
  5. ^ Sects & Sectarianism BETA: The origins of Buddhist Schools [1]
  6. ^ Taisho 27, n1545
  7. ^ David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, pages 76-78.
  8. ^ Theodore Stcherbatsky, The Central Conception of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Word Dharma. Asian Educational Services, 2003, page 76. This is a reprint of a much earlier work and the analysis is now quite dated; the first appendix however contains translations of polemical materials.
  9. ^ [2]

See also

External links


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