The Sarv?stiv?da (Sanskrit; Chinese: ; pinyin: ) was one of the early Buddhist schools established around the reign of Asoka (third century BCE). It was particularly known as an Abhidharma tradition, with a unique set of seven Abhidharma works.
The Sarv?stiv?dins were one of the most influential Buddhist monastic groups, flourishing throughout North India (especially Kashmir) and Central Asia until the 7th century. The orthodox Kashmiri branch of the school composed the large and encyclopedic Mah?vibha stra around the time of the reign of Kanishka (c. 127-150 CE). Because of this, orthodox Sarv?stiv?dins who upheld the doctrines in the Mah?vibha were called Vaibhikas.
Sarv?stiv?da is a Sanskrit term that can be glossed as: "the theory of all exists". The Sarv?stiv?da argued that all dharmas exist in the past, present and future, the "three times". Vasubandhu's Abhidharmako?ak?rik? states, "He who affirms the existence of the dharmas of the three time periods [past, present and future] is held to be a Sarv?stiv?din."
Although there is some dispute over how the word "Sarv?stiv?da" 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, Shu?y?qièy?u bù (Chinese: ), which is literally "the sect that speaks of the existence of everything," as used by Xuanzang and other translators.
The Sarv?stiv?da 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.
According to Charles Prebish, "there is a great deal of mystery surrounding the rise and early development of the Sarv?stiv?din school." According to Dhammajoti, "its presence, as well as that of its rival -- the Vibhajyav?da lineage -- in the time of Emperor A?oka is beyond doubt. Since A?oka's reign is around 268-232 B.C.E., this means that at least by the middle of the 3rd century B.C.E., it had already developed into a distinct school."
In Central Asia, several Buddhist monastic groups were historically prevalent. According to some accounts, the Sarv?stiv?dins emerged from the Sthavira nik?ya, a small group of conservatives, who split from the reformist majority Mah?sghikas at the Second Buddhist council. According to this account, they were expelled from Magadha, and moved to northwestern India where they developed into the Sarv?stiv?din 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, Sarv?stiv?da, and the M?lasarv?stiv?da, and the origins of the Sarv?stiv?da have also been related to Ashoka sending Majjhantika (Sanskrit: Madhy?ntika) on a mission to Gandhara, which had an early presence of the Sarv?stiv?da. The Sarv?stiv?dins in turn are believed to have given rise to the M?lasarv?stiv?da sect, although the relationship between these two groups has not yet been fully determined. According to Prebish, "this episode corresponds well with one Sarv?stiv?din tradition stating that Madhyantika converted the city of Kasmir, which seems to have close ties with Gandhara."
A third tradition says that a community of Sarv?stiv?din monks was established at Mathura by the patriarch Upagupta. In the Sarv?stiv?din tradition Upagupta is said to have been the fifth patriarch after Mah?ka?yapa, ?nanda, Madhy?ntika, and akav?sin, and in the Ch'an tradition he is regarded as the fourth.
The Sarv?stiv?da enjoyed the patronage of Kanishka (c. 127-150 CE) emperor of the Kushan Empire, during which time they were greatly strengthened, and became one of the dominant sects of Buddhism in north India for centuries, flourishing throughout Northwest India, North India, and Central Asia.
When the Sarv?stiv?da school held a synod in Kashmir during the reign of Kanishka II (c. 158-176), the most important Sarv?stiv?da Abhidharma text, the Astagrantha of Katyayaniputra was rewritten and revised in Sanskrit. This revised text was now known as Jñ?naprasth?na ("Course of Knowledge"). Though the Gandharan Astagrantha had many vibha?as (commentaries), the new Kashmiri Jñ?naprasth?na had a Sanskrit Mah?vibha?a, compiled by the Kashmir Sarv?stiv?da synod. The Jñ?naprasth?na and its Mah?vibha?a, were then declared to be the new orthodoxy by Kashmiris, who called themselves Vaibhikas.
This new Vaibhika orthodoxy, however, was not readily accepted by all Sarv?stiv?dins. Some "Western masters" from Gandhara and Bactria had divergent views which disagreed with the new Kashmiri orthodoxy. These disagreements can be seen in post-Mah?vibha?a works, such as the *Tattvasiddhi-stra (), the *Abhidharmah?daya (T no. 1550) and its commentaries (T no. 1551, no. 1552), the Abhidharmako?ak?rik? of Vasubandhu and its commentaries (who critiqued some orthodox views), and the *Ny?y?nus?ra (Ny) of master Sa?ghabhadra (ca fifth century CE) who formulated the most robust Vaibhika response to the new criticisms.
The Vaibhika was formed by adherents of the Mah?vibha stra (MV?) during the council of Kashmir. Since then, it comprised the orthodox or mainstream branch of the Sarv?stiv?da school based in Km?ra (though not exclusive to this region). The Vaibhika-Sarv?stiv?da, which had by far the most "comprehensive edifice of doctrinal systematics" of the early Buddhist schools, was widely influential in India and beyond.
As noted by KL Dhammajoti, "It is important to realize that not all of them necessarily subscribed to each and every view sanctioned by the MV? compilers. Moreover, the evolving nature of the Vaibhika views must be recognized as well."
The Vaibhika-Sarv?stiv?dins are sometimes referred to in the MV? as "the ?bhidharmikas", "the Sarv?stiv?da theoreticians" and "the masters of Km?ra." In various texts, they also referred to their tradition as Yuktav?da (the doctrine of logic), as well as Hetuv?da (the doctrine of causes).
The Vaibhika school saw itself as the orthodox Sarv?stiv?da tradition, and they were united in their doctrinal defense of the theory of "all exists" (sarv?m asti). This is the doctrine which held that dharmas, past present and future, all exist. This doctrine has been described as an eternalist theory of time.
While the Vaibhikas held that dharmas of the three times all exist, they held that only present dharmas have "efficacy" (karitra), thus they were able to explain how the present seems to function differently than the past or future. Among the different Sarv?stiv?da thinkers, there were different ideas on how this theory was to be understood. These differences were accepted as long as they did not contradict the doctrine of "all exists" and can be seen in the MV?, which outlines the four different interpretations of this doctrine by the 'four great ?bhidharmikas of the Sarv?stiv?da': Dharmatr?ta, Buddhadeva, Vasumitra and Gho?aka.
The doctrines of Sarv?stiv?da were not confined to 'all exists', but also include the theory of momentariness (ksanika), conjoining (samprayukta) and causal simultaneity (sahabhu), conditionality (hetu and pratyaya), a unique presentation 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.
In order to explain how it is possible for a dharma to remain the same and yet also undergo change as it moves through the three times, the Vaibhika held that dharmas have a constant essence (svabh?va) which persists through the three times. The term was also identified as a unique mark or own characteristic (svalaksana) that differentiated a dharma and remained unchangeable throughout its existence. According to Vaibhikas, svabhavas are those things that exist substantially (dravyasat) as opposed to those things which are made up of aggregations of dharmas and thus only have a nominal existence (prajñaptisat).
The Sautr?ntikas ("those who uphold the s?tras"), also known as D?rntikas (who may or may not have been a separate but related group), did not uphold the Mah?vibha stra, but rather emphasized the Buddhist s?tras as being authoritative.
Already by the time of the MV?, the early D?rntikas such as Dharmatr?ta and Buddhadeva, existed as a school of thought within the fold of the Sarv?stiv?da who disagreed with the orthodox views. These groups were also called "the western masters" (pc?tya), the foreign masters (bahirde?aka; also called 'the masters outside Ka?m?ra', and the 'G?ndh?rian masters'). They studied the same Abhidharma texts as other Sarv?stiv?dins, but in a more critical way. According to KL Dhammajoti, they eventually came to repudiate the Sarv?stiv?da doctrine of "all exists."
It is this group, i.e. those who rejected the most important Sarv?stiv?da doctrine (along with numerous other key Vaibhika views), which came to be called Sautr?ntika (those who rely on sutras). The Sautr?ntikas did not reject abhidharma however, in fact they were the authors of several abhidharma manuals, like the *Abhidharmah?daya.
The most important Sautr?ntika was Vasubandhu (ca.350-430), a native from Purusapura in Gandhara. He is famous for his Abhidharmako?a, a very influential abhidharma work, with an auto commentary that defends Sautr?ntika views. He famously later converted to the Yogacara school of Mahayana, a tradition that itself developed out of the Sarv?stiv?da Abhidharma.
Vasubandhu's Ko?a led to a vigorous reaction from his contemporary, the brilliant Vaibhika master Sa?ghabhadra, who is said to have spent 12 years composing the *Ny?y?nus?ra (a commentary to Vasubandhu's verses) to refute Vasubandhu and other Sautr?ntikas such as Sthavira ?r?l?ta and his pupil R?ma.
The Ko?a was so influential that it became the Abhidharma text par excellence in both East Asian Buddhism and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Even today, it remains the main text for the study of Abhidharma in these traditions.
There is much uncertainty as to the relationship of the M?lasarv?stiv?da (meaning root or original Sarv?stiv?da) school and the others. They were certainly influential in spreading their M?lasarv?stiv?da Vinaya, as it remains the monastic rule used in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism today. Also, they seem to have been influential in Indonesia by the 7th century, as noted by Yijing.
A number of theories have been posited by academics as to how the two are related including:
The complete Sarv?stiv?da Vinaya is extant in the Chinese Buddhist canon. In its early history, the Sarv?stiv?da 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 Mah?sghika Vinaya was used in earlier times in Guanzhong (the region around Chang'an), and that the Sarv?stiv?da Vinaya was prominent in the Yangzi River area and further south. 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 sa?gha in China should use only the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya for ordination.
Scholars at present have "a nearly complete collection of s?tras from the Sarv?stiv?da school" thanks to a recent discovery in Afghanistan of roughly two-thirds of the D?rgha ?gama in Sanskrit. The Madhyama ?gama (T26, Chinese trans. Gotama Sa?ghadeva) and Sa?yukta ?gama (T99, Chinese trans. Gu?abhadra) have long been available in Chinese translation. The Sarv?stiv?da 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 Sarv?stiv?da 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 Sarv?stiv?da Abhidharma consists of seven texts:
Following these, are the texts that became the authority of the Vaibhika:
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 Sarv?stiv?da abhidharma, although at a minimum the Dharmaguptaka, Pudgalavada and Theravada also had abhidharmas.
Various other Abhidharma works were written by Sarv?stiv?da masters, some are more concise manuals of abhidharma, others critiqued the orthodox Vaibhika views or provided a defense of the orthodoxy. Dhammajoti provides the following list of such later abhidharma works that are extant in Chinese: 108 109
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. kya) utitized in five major Indian Buddhist sects, called Da Biqiu Sanqian Weiyi (?). Another text translated at a later date, the riputraparip?cch?, contains a very similar passage with nearly the same information. In the earlier source, the Sarv?stiv?da are described as wearing dark red robes, while the Dharmaguptas are described as wearing black robes. However, in the corresponding passage found in the later riputraparip?cch?, the Sarv?stiv?da are described as wearing black robes and the Dharmaguptas as wearing dark red robes. In traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, which follow the M?lasarv?stiv?da Vinaya, red robes are regarded as characteristic of their tradition.
During the first century BCE, in the Gandharan cultural area (consisting of Oddiyana, Gandhara and Bactria, Tokharistan, across the Khyber Pass), the Sthaviriyas used the G?ndh?r? language to write their literature using the Kharosthi.
The Sarv?stiv?dins of Km?ra held the Mah?vibh stra as authoritative, and thus were given the moniker of being Vaibhikas. The Mah?vibh is thought to have been authored around 150 CE, around the time of Kani?ka (127-151 CE) of the Kua Empire. This massive treatise of Abhidharma (200 fascicles in Chinese) contains a great deal of material with what appear to be strong affinities to Mah?y?na doctrines. The Mah?vibh is also said to illustrate the accommodations reached between the H?nay?na and Mah?y?na traditions, as well as the means by which Mah?y?na doctrines would become accepted. The Mah?vibh also defines the Mah?y?na s?tras and the role in their Buddhist canon. Here they are described as Vaipulya doctrines, with "Vaipulya" being a commonly used synonym for Mah?y?na. The Mah?vibh reads:
What is the Vaipulya? It is said to be all the s?tras corresponding to elaborations on the meanings of the exceedingly profound dharmas.
According to a number of scholars, Mah?y?na Buddhism flourished during the time of the Kua Empire, and this is illustrated in the form of Mah?y?na influence on the Mah?vibh stra. The Mañju?r?m?lakalpa also records that Kani?ka presided over the establishment of Prajñ?p?ramit? doctrines in the northwest of India.Étienne Lamotte has also pointed out that a Sarv?stiv?da master is known to have stated that the Mah?y?na Prajñ? s?tras were to be found amongst their Vaipulya s?tras. According to Paul Williams, the similarly massive Mah?prajñ?p?ramit?upade?a also has a clear association with the Vaibhika Sarv?stiv?dins.
The Vaibhika and Sautr?ntika subschools are both classified in the Tibetan tenets system as the two tenets of the Hinayana, ignoring other early Indian Buddhist schools, which were not known to the Tibetans.
Sarv?stiv?din meditation teachers also worked on the Dhy?na sutras (Chinese: ), a group of early Buddhist meditation texts which were translated into Chinese and became influential in the development of Chinese Buddhist meditation methods.