Early Buddhist schools – The Buddhist monastic saṅgha
The early Buddhist schools are those schools into which the Buddhist monastic saṅgha initially split, due originally to differences in vinaya and later also due to doctrinal differences and geographical separation of groups of monks.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Origin of early Buddhist schools
- 2 - List of early Buddhist schools
- 2.1 - Theravada
- 2.2 - Mulasarvastivada
- 2.3 - Tamrashatiya
- 2.4 - Sarvastivada
- 2.5 - Buddhayaśas
- 2.6 - Vaibhāṣika
- 2.7 - Sthavira nikāya
- 2.8 - Sautrāntika
- 2.9 - Pudgalavada
- 2.10 - Prajñaptivāda
- 2.11 - Bahuśrutīya
- 2.12 - Mahīśāsaka
- 2.13 - Mahāsāṃghika
- 2.14 - Lokottaravāda
- 2.15 - Kukkuṭika
- 2.16 - Ekavyāvahārika
- 2.17 - Dharmaguptaka
- 2.18 - Caitika
- 2.19 - Vibhajyavāda
- 2.20 - Nikaya Buddhism
- 2.21 - Kāśyapīya
- 2.22 - Dharmatrāta
Origin of early Buddhist schools
Later, these first early schools were further divided into schools such as the Sarvāstivādins, the Dharmaguptakas, and the Vibhajyavāda, and ended up numbering 18 or 20 schools according to traditional accounts.
In fact, there are several overlapping lists of 18 schools preserved in the Buddhist tradition, totaling about twice as many, though some may be alternative names for the same schools. It is thought likely that the traditional numbers are merely conventional.
The textual material shared by the early schools is often termed the Early Buddhist Texts and these are an important source for understanding their doctrinal similarities and differences.
List of early Buddhist schools
This is a list of well-known Early Buddhist schools.
Theravāda is the most commonly accepted name of Buddhism’s oldest existing school. The school’s adherents, termed Theravādins, have preserved their version of Gautama Buddha’s teaching or Buddha Dhamma in the Pāli Canon for over a millennium.
The Mūlasarvāstivāda was one of the early Buddhist schools of India. The origins of the Mūlasarvāstivāda and their relationship to the Sarvāstivāda sect still remain largely unknown, although various theories exist.
The Tāmraśāṭīya, also called Tāmraparṇīya was one of the early schools of Buddhism and a branch of the Vibhajyavāda school based in Sri Lanka. It is thought that the Theravāda tradition has its origins in this school.
The Sarvāstivāda was one of the early Buddhist schools established around the reign of Ashoka. It was particularly known as an Abhidharma tradition, with a unique set of seven Abhidharma works.
Buddhayaśas was a Dharmaguptaka monk and translator. He is recorded as having learned both Theravada and Mahāyāna treatises. He translated the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, the Dīrgha Āgama, and other Mahāyāna texts including the Ākāśagarbha Bodhisattva Sūtra. Buddhayaśas’ preface for his translation of the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya states that the Dharmaguptakas had assimilated the body of Mahāyāna sutras.
Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika or simply Vaibhāṣika (वैभाषिक), refers to an ancient Buddhist tradition of Abhidharma, which was very influential in north India, especially Kashmir. In various texts, they referred to their tradition as Yuktavāda, and another name for them was Hetuvāda. The Vaibhāṣika school was an influential subgroup of the larger Sarvāstivāda school. They were distinguished from other Sarvāstivāda sub-schools like the Sautrāntika and the “Western Masters” of Gandhara and Bactria by their orthodox adherence to the doctrines found in the Mahāvibhāṣa. Vaibhāṣika thought significantly influenced the Buddhist philosophy of all major Mahayana Buddhist schools of thought and also influenced the later forms of Theravāda Abhidhamma.
The Sthavira nikāya was one of the early Buddhist schools. They split from the majority Mahāsāṃghikas at the time of the Second Buddhist council.
The Sautrāntika or Sutravadin were an early Buddhist school generally believed to be descended from the Sthavira nikāya by way of their immediate parent school, the Sarvāstivādins. While they are identified as a unique doctrinal tendency, they were part of the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya lineage of monastic ordination.
The Pudgalavāda was a Buddhist philosophical view and also refers to a group of Nikaya Buddhist schools that arose from the Sthavira nikāya. The school is believed to have been founded by the elder Vātsīputra in the third century BCE. They were a widely influential school in India and became particularly popular during the reign of emperor Harshavadana. Harsha’s sister Rajyasri was said to have joined the school as a nun. According to Dan Lusthaus, they were “one of the most popular mainstream Buddhist sects in India for more than a thousand years.”
The Prajñaptivāda was a branch of the Mahāsāṃghika, one of the early Buddhist schools in India. The Prajñaptivādins were also known as the Bahuśrutīya-Vibhajyavādins.
Bahuśrutīya (Sanskrit) was one of the early Buddhist schools, according to early sources such as Vasumitra, the Śāriputraparipṛcchā, and other sources, and was a sub-group which emerged from the Mahāsāṃghika sect.
Mahīśāsaka 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 Mahīśāsaka sect toward the end of the 2nd or the beginning of the 1st century BCE.
The Mahāsāṃghika was one of the early Buddhist schools. Interest in the origins of the Mahāsāṃghika school lies in the fact that their Vinaya recension appears in several ways to represent an older redaction overall. Many scholars also look to the Mahāsāṃghika branch for the initial development of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.
The Lokottaravāda was one of the early Buddhist schools according to Mahayana doxological sources compiled by Bhāviveka, Vinitadeva and others, and was a subgroup which emerged from the Mahāsāṃghika.
The Kukkuṭika were an early Buddhist school which descended from the Mahāsāṃghika.
The Ekavyāvahārika was one of the early Buddhist schools, and is thought to have separated from the Mahāsāṃghika sect during the reign of Aśoka.
The Dharmaguptaka are one of the eighteen or twenty early Buddhist schools, depending on the source. They are said to have originated from another sect, the Mahīśāsakas. The Dharmaguptakas had a prominent role in early Central Asian and Chinese Buddhism, and their Prātimokṣa are still in effect in East Asian countries to this day, including China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan as well as the Philippines. They are one of three surviving Vinaya lineages, along with that of the Theravāda and the Mūlasarvāstivāda.
Caitika was an early Buddhist school, a sub-sect of the Mahāsāṃghika. They were also known as the Caityaka sect.
Vibhajyavāda is a term applied generally to groups of early Buddhists belonging to the Sthavira Nikaya. These various groups are known to have rejected Sarvāstivāda doctrines and the doctrine of Pudgalavada (personalism). During the reign of Ashoka, these groups possibly took part in missionary activity in Gandhara, Bactria, Kashmir, South India and Sri Lanka. By the third century CE, they had spread in Central Asia and South-East Asia. Their doctrine is expounded in the Kathavatthu.
The term Nikāya Buddhism was coined by Masatoshi Nagatomi as a non-derogatory substitute for Hinayana, meaning the early Buddhist schools. Examples of these groups are pre-sectarian Buddhism and the early Buddhist schools. Some scholars exclude pre-sectarian Buddhism when using the term. The term Theravada refers to Buddhist practices based on these early teachings, as preserved in the Pāli Canon.
Kāśyapīya was one of the early Buddhist schools in India.
Dharmatrāta or possibly Dharmatara or Dharmatāra, is the name of successive Sarvāstivāda teachers and authors. The name is usually transliterated into Chinese as 達磨多羅 and translated as 法救, which means ‘Dharma Rescuer’ or ‘Dharma Saviour’.