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The Mah?vastu (Sanskrit for "Great Event" or "Great Story") is a text of the Lokottarav?da school of Early Buddhism.[1] It describes itself as being a historical preface to the Buddhist monastic codes (vinaya).[2] Over half of the text is composed of J?taka and Avad?na tales, accounts of the earlier lives of the Buddha and other bodhisattvas.[3]

The Mah?vastu contains prose and verse written in mixed Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit.[4] It is believed to have been compiled between the 2nd century BCE and 4th century CE.[3][5][6]

Pali Canon parallels

The Mah?vastu's J?taka tales are similar to those of the Pali Canon although significant differences exist in terms of the tales' details. Other parts of the Mah?vastu have more direct parallels in the Pali Canon including from the Digha Nikaya (DN 19, Mah?govinda Sutta), the Majjhima Nikaya (MN 26, Ariyapariyesana Sutta; and, MN 36, Mahasaccaka Sutta), the Khuddakap?tha, the Dhammapada (ch. 8, Sahassa Vagga; and, ch. 25, Bhikkhu Vagga), the Sutta Nipata (Sn 1.3, Khaggavis??a Sutta; Sn 3.1, Pabbajj? Sutta; and, Sn 3.2, Padh?na Sutta), the Vimanavatthu and the Buddhava?sa.[7]

Mahayana themes

The Mah?vastu is considered a primary source for the notion of a transcendent (lokottara) Buddha, common to all Mah?sghika schools. According to the Mah?vastu, over the course of many lives, the once-human-born Buddha developed supramundane abilities including: a painless birth conceived without intercourse; no need for sleep, food, medicine or bathing although engaging in such "in conformity with the world"; omniscience; and, the ability to "suppress karma."[8]

English translations

  • Jones, J.J. (trans.) (1949-56). The Mah?vastu (3 vols.) in Sacred Books of the Buddhists. London: Luzac & Co. vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3


  1. ^ Keown 2013, p. 117.
  2. ^ Tournier 2012, pp. 89-90.
  3. ^ a b The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 1998.
  4. ^ Jones (1949), pp. x-xi.
  5. ^ "Mah?vastu" (2008).
  6. ^ Jones (1949), p. xi, writes: ""... the Mah?vastu is not the composition of a single author written in a well-defined period of time. Rather, it is a compilation which may have been begun in the second century B.C., but which was not completed until the third or fourth century A.D."
  7. ^ Regarding the Dhammapada parallels, see ?nandajoti (2007), "Introduction," where ?nandajoti writes:
    Of the incomplete parallels, two chapters from yet another Dharmapada have been preserved in the Mah?vastu, one of the earliest of the Sanskritised Prakrit texts; one of the chapters is named as the Sahasravarga, and appears to be the whole of the chapter; the other is a selection that comes from an unnamed Bhik?uvarga.
    From "Ancient Buddhist Texts". See also; ch. 8, "Sahassavagga", and ch. 25, "Bhikkhuvagga"
  8. ^ Williams 2007, pp. 18-19.


  • Jones, J.J. (trans.) (1949-56). The Mah?vastu (3 vols.) in Sacred Books of the Buddhists. London: Luzac & Co. volume1 volume 2 volume 3
  • Keown, Damien (2013), The Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Routledge, ISBN 9781136985881
  • The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1998), Mah?vastu, Encyclopædia Britannica
  • ?nandajoti Bhikkhu (2007). A Comparative Edition of the Dhammapada. U. of Peradeniya. Retrieved 25 Nov 2008 from "Ancient Buddhist Texts"
  • J.K. Nariman (1923), Literary History of Sanskrit Buddhism, Bombay: Indian Book Depot; pp. 11-18
  • Tournier, Vincent (2012), "The Mah?vastu and the Vinayapi?aka of the Mah?sghika-Lokottarav?dins" (PDF), Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University (ARIRIAB) (15)
  • Williams, Paul (2007), Mah?y?na Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, London: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-02537-9

External links

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