Mahsaka (traditional Chinese: ; ; pinyin: Huàdì Bù) is one of the early Buddhist schools according to some records. Its origins may go back to the dispute in the Second Buddhist council. The Dharmaguptaka sect is thought to have branched out from Mahsaka sect toward the end of the 2nd or the beginning of the 1st century BCE.
There are two general accounts of the circumstances surrounding the origins of the Mahsakas. The Therav?din Dipavamsa asserts that the Mahsaka sect gave rise to the Sarv?stiv?da sect. However, both the riputraparip?cch? and the Samayabhedoparacanacakra record that the Sarv?stiv?dins were the older sect out of which the Mahsakas emerged. Buswell and Lopez also state that the Mahsaka was an offshoot of the Sarv?stiv?dins, but group the school under the Vibhajyav?da, "a broad designation for non-Sarvastivada strands of the Sthaviranikaya," which also included the Kasyapiya.
The Mahsaka sect is thought to have first originated in the Avanti region of India. Their founder was a monk named Pura, who is venerated at length in the Mahsaka vinaya, which is preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon.
From the writings of Xuanzang, the Mahsaka are known to have been active in Kashmir in the 4th century CE. Xuanzang records that Asa?ga, an important Yog?c?ra master and the elder brother of Vasubandhu, received ordination into the Mahsaka sect. Asa?ga's frameworks for abhidharma writings retained many underlying Mahsaka traits.André Bareau writes:
[It is] sufficiently obvious that Asa?ga had been a Mahsaka when he was a young monk, and that he incorporated a large part of the doctrinal opinions proper to this school within his own work after he became a great master of the Mah?y?na, when he made up what can be considered as a new and Mah?y?nist Abhidharma-pi?aka.
The Mahsaka are believed to have spread from the Northwest down to Southern India including N?g?rjunako, and even as far as the island of Sri Lanka. According to A. K. Warder, the Indian Mahsaka sect also established itself in Sri Lanka alongside the Therav?da, into which they were later absorbed.
In the 7th century CE, Yijing grouped the Mahsaka, Dharmaguptaka, and Kyap?ya together as sub-sects of the Sarv?stiv?da, and stated that these three were not prevalent in the "five parts of India," but were located in the some parts of Oiy?na, the Kingdom of Khotan, and Kucha.
Between 148 and 170 CE, the Parthian monk An Shigao came to China and translated a work which describes the color of monastic robes (Skt. kya) utitized in five major Indian Buddhist sects, called Da Biqiu Sanqian Weiyi (Chinese: ?). Another text translated at a later date, the riputraparip?cch?, contains a very similar passage corroborating this information. In both sources, members of the Mahsaka sect are described as wearing blue robes. The relevant portion of the Mah?sghika riputraparip?cch? reads, "The Mahsaka school practice dhy?na, and penetrate deeply. They wear blue robes."
The Mahsaka sect held that everything exists, but only in the present. They also regarded a gift to the Sa?gha as being more meritorious than one given to the Buddha. They disagreed with the Dharmaguptakas on this point, as the Dharmaguptakas believed that a giving a gift to the Buddha is more meritorious than giving one to the Sa?gha.
The Indian Mahsaka sect also established itself in Sri Lanka alongside the Therav?da, into which these members were later absorbed. It is known that Faxian obtained a Sanskrit copy of the Mahsaka vinaya at Abhayagiri vih?ra in Sri Lanka, c. 406 CE. The Mahsaka Vinaya was then translated into Chinese in 434 CE by Buddhajiva and Zhu Daosheng. This translation of the Mahsaka Vinaya remains extant in the Chinese Buddhist canon as Taish? Tripi?aka 1421.
It is believed that the Mah?y?na Infinite Life Sutra was compiled in the age of the Kushan Empire, in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, by an order of Mahsaka bhikkhus that flourished in the Gandhara region. It is likely that the longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha owed greatly to the Lokottarav?da sect as well for its compilation, and in this s?tra there are many elements in common with the Mah?vastu. The earliest of these translations show traces of having been translated from the G?ndh?r? language, a Prakrit used in the Northwest. It is also known that manuscripts in the Kharoh? script existed in China during this period.
The Mahsaka sect believed that it was not possible for women to become buddhas. In the N?gadatta S?tra, the Mahsaka view is criticized in a narrative about a bhik?u named N?gadatta. Here, the demon M?ra 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 (samyaksa?buddha):
M?ra therefore took the disguise of N?gadatta's father and said thus to N?gadatta: "Your thought is too serious. Buddhahood is too difficult to attain. It takes a hundred thousand nayutas of kotis of kalpas to become a Buddha. Since few people attain Buddhahood in this world, why don't you attain Arhatship? For the experience of Arhatship is the same as that of nirva; moreover, it is easy to attain Arhatship."
In her reply, N?gadatta 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.
The Mahsaka sect held that there were five obstacles that were laid before women. These are that they may not become a cakravartin, M?ra king, ?akra king, Brahma king or a Buddha. This Mahsaka view is ascribed to M?ra in the N?gadatta S?tra of the Sarv?stiv?dins:
M?ra said, "I have not even heard that a woman can be reborn as a cakravartin; how can you be reborn as a Buddha? It takes too long to attain Buddhahood, why not seek for Arhatship and attain nirva soon?" N?gadatta replied, "I also have heard that a woman cannot be reborn as a cakravartin, a Sakra, a Brahma, and a Buddha, and yet I shell make the right effort to transform a woman's body into a man's. For I have heard that those Noble Ones, by the practice of bodhisattvacarya for a hundred thousand nayutas of kotis of kalpas diligently attain Buddhahood."
The Mahsakas believed that women essentially could not change the nature of their minds or physical bodies, and would cause the teachings of Buddhism to decline. Of this, David Kalupahana writes,
The Mahsaka prejudice against women is based upon the traditional view of women. Like some of the other early Buddhist practitioners, they did not trust women, even nuns. This explains why they restricted nuns' social and religious activities in the sangha. Sometimes they liken the nuns' existence to hail which damages a good harvest.