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{{EngvarB|date=January 2014}}{{Use dmy dates|date=January 2014}}File:IMG 1972 Sakya.jpg|thumb|right|The traditions of Tibetan Buddhism traditionally follow the Mūlasarvāstivāda VinayaVinaya{{EarlyBuddhism}}The Sarvāstivāda (Sanskrit; {{zh|c=說一切有部|p=Shuō Yīqièyǒu Bù}}) were an early school of Buddhism that held to the existence of all dharmas in the past, present and future, the "three times".{{sfn|de La Vallée-Poussin|1990|p=807}}The Sarvāstivādins were one of the most influential Buddhist monastic groups, flourishing throughout Northwest India, Northern India, and Central Asia. The Sarvāstivādins are believed to have given rise to the Mūlasarvāstivāda sect, although the relationship between these two groups has not yet been fully determined.


Sarvāstivāda is a Sanskrit term that can be glossed as: "the theory of all exists". The Sarvāstivāda argued that all dharmas exist in the past, present and future, the "three times". Vasubandhu's {{IAST|Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya}} states, "He who affirms the existence of the dharmas of the three time periods [past, present and future] is held to be a Sarvāstivādin."{{sfn|de La Vallée-Poussin|1990|p=807}}Although there is some dispute over how the word "Sarvāstivāda" 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, Shuōyīqièyǒu bù ({{zh|c=說一切有部}}),Taisho 27, n1545 which is literally "the sect that speaks of the existence of everything," as used by Xuanzang and other translators.The Sarvāstivāda 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.

Origination and history

According to Charles Prebish, "there is a great deal of mystery surrounding the rise and early development of the Sarvāstivādin school."Buddhism: A Modern Perspective. Charles S. Prebish. Penn State Press: 1975. {{ISBN|0-271-01195-5}} pg 42-43 In Central Asia, several Buddhist monastic groups were historically prevalent. According to some accounts, the Sarvāstivādins emerged from the Sthavira nikāya, a small group of conservatives, who split from the reformist majority Mahāsāṃghikas at the Second Buddhist council. According to this account, they were expelled from Magadha, and moved to northwestern India where they developed into the Sarvāstivādin school. A number of scholars have identified three distinct major phases of missionary activity seen in the history of Buddhism in Central Asia, which are associated with respectively the Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda, and the Mūlasarvāstivāda,Willemen, Charles. Dessein, Bart. Cox, Collett. Sarvāstivāda Buddhist Scholasticism. 1997. p. 126 and the origins of the Sarvastivada have also been related to Asoka sending Majjhantika on a mission to Gandhara, which had an early presence of the Sarvastivada. The Sarvāstivādins in turn are believed to have given rise to the Mūlasarvāstivāda sect, although the relationship between these two groups has not yet been fully determined. According to Prebish, "this episode corresponds well with one Sarvāstivādin tradition stating that Madhyantika (the Sanskrit counterpart of the Pali Majjhantika) converted the city of Kasmir, which seems to have close ties with Gandhara." A third tradition says that a community of Sarvāstivādin monks was established at Mathura by the patriarch Upagupta.

Early history - Kanishka

The Sarvāstivāda enjoyed the patronage of Kanishka (c. 127–150 CE) of the Kushan dynasty, during which time they were greatly strengthened, and became one of the dominant sects of Buddhism for the next thousand years, flourishing throughout Northwest India, Northern India, and Central AsiaWhen the Sarvāstivāda school held a synod in Kashmir during the reign of Kanishka II (c. 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 Jnanaprasthana, Course of Knowledge. Though the Gandharan Astagrantha had many vibhasas, the new Kashmir Astagrantha i.e. the Jnanaprasthana had a Sanskrit Mahavibhasa, compiled by the Kashmir Sarvāstivāda synod. The Jnanaprasthana and its Mahavibhasa, which took more than a generation to complete, were then declared the Vaibhāṣika orthodoxy, said to be 'Buddha’s word', Buddhabhasita. This new Vaibhāṣika orthodoxy, however, was not readily accepted by the Gandharan Sarvāstivādins, though gradually they adapted their views to the new Kasmira orthodoxy. The Gandharan Sarvāstivādins 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 Kashmir synod by removing the avadanas and jatakas, stories and illustrations. After the declaration of the Vaibhāṣika orthodoxy, the Gandharan non-vaibhasika Sarvāstivādins, the majority, were called Sautrantikas “those who uphold the sutras”.

Vaibhāṣika and Sautrāntika subschools

The Sarvāstivāda comprised two subschools, the Vaibhāṣika and the Sautrāntika. Pioneering work on the subject was undertaken by Ch. Willemen in 1975, and more recently in 2006 (Abhidharmahṛdaya) and in 2008 in the Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies (Tokyo). 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,"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 was widely influential in India and beyond.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 3In contrast to the Vaibhāṣikas, the Sautrāntika Sarvāstivādins did not uphold the Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra, but rather emphasized the Buddhist sūtras. The name Sautrāntika means "those who uphold the sūtras." According to the {{IAST|Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya}}, the Sautrāntikas held the doctrine that there may be many contemporaneous buddhas.{{sfn|Xing|2005|p=66}}


A number of theories have been posited by academics as to how the two are related, which Bhikkhu Sujato summaries as follows:The Kasmira orthodoxy, the Vaibhāṣikas disappeared in the later part of the 7th century. Subsequently, the old Gandharan Sarvāstivādins, the non-Vaibhāṣika Sautrantikas, were named Mūlasarvāstivādins, who then at a later date went to Tibet. It has been suggested that the minority Vaibhāṣikas were absorbed into the majority Sautrantika Sarvāstivādins as a possible result of the latter’s adaptations.Moreover, Mishrakabhidharmahrdaya, a title which means that 'sautrantika views were mixed with Vaibhāṣika views' was composed by Dharmatrata in the 4th century in Gandharan area. Vasubandhu (ca.350-430), a native from Purusapura in Gandhara, composed his Kosa based on this text and the Astagrantha. While in Kasmira, he wrote his karikas which were well received there but he faced intense opposition, notably from Samghabhadra, a leading Sarvāstivāda pundit, when he composed his bhasya. By his bhasya, Vasubandhu made it clear to the Vaibhāṣikas that he was a sautrantika, which is why he was fiercely opposed by the Sarvāstivāda vaibhasikas in Kasmira.In reply to Vasubhandhu’s bhasya, Samghabhadra wrote a text, the Nyayanusara 'according to reason'. This work is presently only extant in Chinese (from Xuanzang’s translation and little is known of it in English).

Appearance and language


Between 148 and 170 CE, the Parthian monk An Shigao came to China and translated a work which described the color of monastic robes (Skt. kāṣāya) utitized in five major Indian Buddhist sects, called Da Biqiu Sanqian Weiyi (大比丘三千威儀).Hino, Shoun. Three Mountains and Seven Rivers. 2004. p. 55 Another text translated at a later date, the Śāriputraparipṛcchā, contains a very similar passage with nearly the same information. In the earlier source, the Sarvāstivāda are described as wearing dark red robes, while the Dharmaguptaka are described as wearing black robes.Hino, Shoun. Three Mountains and Seven Rivers. 2004. pp. 55-56 However, in the corresponding passage found in the later Śāriputraparipṛcchā, the Sarvāstivāda are described as wearing black robes and the Dharmaguptaka as wearing dark red robes. In traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, which follow the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, red robes are regarded as characteristic of their tradition.Mohr, Thea. Tsedroen, Jampa. Dignity and Discipline: Reviving Full Ordination for Buddhist Nuns. 2010. p. 266


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. The Tibetan historian Buton Rinchen Drub wrote that the Mahāsāṃghikas used Prākrit, the Sarvāstivādins used Sanskrit, the Sthavira nikāya used Paiśācī, and the Saṃmitīya used Apabhraṃśa.{{sfn|Yao|2012|p=9}}


All exists

{{unreferenced section|date=July 2015}}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 Sarvāstivādins. Vasubandhu’s Koshabhasya, an elaborate yoga manual based on the Hrdaya, describes four main theses on sarvasti:Later Sarvāstivāda 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 Sarvāstivāda 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 Three Vehicles

Regarding divisions of practice, the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins are known to have employed the outlook of Buddhist practice as consisting of the Three Vehicles:{{sfn|Nakamura|1980|p=189}}
  1. Śrāvakayāna
  2. Pratyekabuddhayāna
  3. Bodhisattvayāna

Views on the Buddha

Sarvāstivādins viewed the Buddha's physical body (Skt. rūpakāya) as being impure and improper for taking refuge in, and they instead regarded taking refuge in the Buddha as taking refuge in the Dharmakāya of the Buddha.{{sfn|Xing|2005|p=49}}

Views on arhats

According to A.K. Warder, the Sarvāstivādins held the same position as the Mahāsāṃghika branch regarding arhats, considering them to be imperfect and fallible.Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. p. 277 In the Sarvāstivādin Nāgadatta Sūtra, the Mahīśāsaka view of women is criticized in a narrative about a bhikṣuṇī named Nāgadatta. Here, the demon Māra takes the form of her father, and tries to convince her to work toward the lower stage of an arhat, rather than that of a fully enlightened buddha (Skt. samyaksambuddha).{{sfn|Kalupahana|2001|p=109}}In her reply, Nāgadatta rejects arhatship as a lower path, saying, "A Buddha's wisdom is like empty space of the ten-quarters, which can enlighten innumerable people. But an Arhat's wisdom is inferior."{{sfn|Kalupahana|2001|p=109}}

Views on bodhisattvas

Regarding divisions of practice, the Mahāvibhāṣā is known to employ the outlook of Buddhist practice as consisting of the Three Vehicles.{{sfn|Nakamura|1980|p=189}} The Sarvāstivādins also did not hold that it was impossible, or even impractical to strive to become a fully enlightened buddha (Skt. samyaksaṃbuddha), and therefore they admitted the path of a bodhisattva as a valid one.Baruah, Bibhuti. Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism. 2008. p. 457 References to Bodhisattvayāna and the practice of the Six Pāramitās are commonly found in Sarvāstivāda works as well.Baruah, Bibhuti. Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism. 2008. p. 456The Mahāvibhāṣā of the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins includes a schema of four pāramitās: generosity (dāna), discipline (śīla), energy (vīrya), and wisdom (prajñā), and it says that the four pāramitās and six pāramitās are essentially equivalent.{{sfn|Xing|2005|p=48}}



The Dharmaguptaka are known to have rejected the authority of the Sarvāstivāda pratimoká¹£a rules on the grounds that the original teachings of the Buddha had been lost.Baruah, Bibhuti. Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism. 2008. p. 52The complete Sarvāstivāda Vinaya is extant in the Chinese Buddhist canon. In its early history, the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya was the most common vinaya tradition in China. However, Chinese Buddhism later settled on the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya. In the 7th century, Yijing wrote that in eastern China, most people followed the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, while the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya was used in earlier times in Guanzhong (the region around Chang'an), and that the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya was prominent in the Yangzi River area and further south.Mohr, Thea. Tsedroen, Jampa. Dignity and Discipline: Reviving Full Ordination for Buddhist Nuns. 2010. p. 187 In the 7th century, the existence of multiple Vinaya lineages throughout China was criticized by prominent Vinaya masters such as Yijing and Dao'an (654–717). In the early 8th century, Daoan gained the support of Emperor Zhongzong of Tang, and an imperial edict was issued that the saṃgha in China should use only the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya for ordination.Heirman, Ann. Bumbacher, Stephan Peter. The Spread of Buddhism. 2007. pp. 194-195


Scholars at present have "a nearly complete collection of sūtras from the Sarvāstivāda school"Bhikkhu Sujato: The Pali Nikāyas and Chinese Āgamas thanks to a recent discovery in Afghanistan of roughly two-thirds of the Dīrgha Āgama in Sanskrit. The Madhyama Āgama (T26, Chinese trans. Gotama Saṅghadeva) and Saṃyukta Āgama (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.


During the first century, the Sarvāstivāda 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 AD and in 183 AD. respectively, but they were not completed until 390 in Southern China.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 Vaibhāṣika: Sarvāstivādin meditation teachers also worked on the Dhyāna sutras ({{zh|c=禪經}}), a group of early Buddhist meditation texts which were translated into Chinese and became influential in the development of Chinese Buddhist meditation methods.All of these works have been translated into Chinese, and are now part of the Chinese Buddhist canon. In the Chinese context, the word abhidharma refers to the Sarvāstivāda abhidharma, although at a minimum the Dharmaguptaka, Pudgalavada and Theravada also had abhidharmas.

Relationship to Mahāyāna

The Sarvāstivādins of Kāśmīra held the {{IAST|Mahāvibhāṣā Śāstra}} as authoritative, and thus were given the moniker of being Vaibhāṣikas. The {{IAST|Mahāvibhāṣā}} is thought to have been authored around 150 CE, around the time of Kaniṣka (127–151 CE) of the Kuṣāṇa Empire.Potter, Karl. Abhidharma Buddhism to 150 A.D. 1998. p. 112 This massive treatise of Abhidharma (200 fascicles in Chinese) contains a great deal of material with what appear to be strong affinities to Mahāyāna doctrines.Potter, Karl. Abhidharma Buddhism to 150 A.D. 1998. p. 117 The {{IAST|Mahāvibhāṣā}} is also said to illustrate the accommodations reached between the Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna traditions, as well as the means by which Mahāyāna doctrines would become accepted.Potter, Karl. Abhidharma Buddhism to 150 A.D. 1998. p. 111 The {{IAST|Mahāvibhāṣā}} also defines the Mahāyāna sūtras and the role in their Buddhist canon. Here they are described as Vaipulya doctrines, with "Vaipulya" being a commonly used synonym for Mahāyāna. The {{IAST|Mahāvibhāṣā}} reads:Walser, Joseph. Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture. 2005. p. 156According to a number of scholars, Mahāyāna Buddhism flourished during the time of the Kuṣāṇa Empire, and this is illustrated in the form of Mahāyāna influence on the Mahāvibhāṣā Śāstra.Willemen, Charles. Dessein, Bart. Cox, Collett. Sarvāstivāda Buddhist Scholasticism. 1997. p. 123 The Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa also records that Kaniṣka presided over the establishment of Prajñāpāramitā doctrines in the northwest of India.Ray, Reginald. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. 1999. p. 410 Étienne Lamotte has also pointed out that a Sarvāstivāda master is known to have stated that the Mahāyāna Prajñā sūtras were to be found amongst their Vaipulya sūtras. According to Paul Williams, the similarly massive Mahāprajñāpāramitāupadeśa also has a clear association with the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins.Williams, Paul, and Tribe, Anthony. Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. 2000. p. 100




  • BOOK, harv, Kalupahana, David, David Kalupahana, Buddhist Thought and Ritual,weblink 2001, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 978-81-208-1773-9,
  • BOOK, harv, Kalupahana, David, David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism,weblink 1975, University Press of Hawaii, 978-0-8248-0298-1,
  • BOOK, harv, Nakamura, Hajime, Hajime Nakamura, Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes,weblink 1980, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 978-81-208-0272-8,
  • BOOK, harv, Vasubandhu, Vasubandhu, de La Vallée-Poussin, Louis, Louis de La Vallée-Poussin, AbhidharmakoÅ›abhāṣyam,weblink 1 June 1990, Asian Humanities Press, 978-0-89581-913-0,
  • BOOK, harv, Xing, Guang, The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikāya Theory,weblink 2005, Psychology Press, 978-0-415-33344-3,
  • BOOK, harv, Yao, Zhihua, The Buddhist Theory of Self-Cognition,weblink 2012, Routledge, 978-1-134-28745-1,

Further reading

  • For a critical examination of the Sarvāstivādin interpretation of the Samyuktagama, see David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism.{{sfn|Kalupahana|1975|pp=76-78}}
  • For a Sautrantika refutation of the Sarvāstivādin use of the Samyuktagama, see Theodore Stcherbatsky, The Central Conception of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Word Dharma.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.
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