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The Eighteen Schools of Buddhism
by Vasumitra

An article by
By Rev. S. Beal, B.A.

The Indian Antiquary,
A Journal of Oriental Research
Edited by
Jas. Burgess, M.Ras., F.R.G.S.

Vol. IX. 1880

Reformated and reprinted here from the Sacred Texts Archives version scanned and edited by Christopher M. Weimer, April 2002



[299] One of the most interesting but intricate questions that can occupy the attention of the Buddhist student is the history of the eighteen sects into which the Buddhist Church was at an early date separated. A clear account of the causes that led to the schisms and the several tenets held by the separatists was, in the opinion of the late Mr. Spence Hardy, one of the great desiderata in the history of this religion. The Chinese and Tibetan books contain much valuable information on these points. Among other works in the northern copy of the Tripi.taka, common in the monasteries of China and Japan, is one which contains three translations from Sanskrit of the treatise, written by Vasumitra, on the eighteen schools. This Vasumitra[1] was one of the Buddhist patriarchs who lived probably about the time of Kanishka, that is, as far as we know at present with any certainty, about 42 B.C.[2] His aim was evidently to reconcile the differences that existed in traditions, customs, and acknowledged scriptures; and it was probably under his auspices, or by his influence that the Great Council was held that rearranged and revised the Buddhist Canon as it is known in the North. There are three translations of this treatise into Chinese; the first is anonymous, and is most obscure. The second is by Chin-ti, of the Tsin dynasty. The third is by Hiwen Thsang, of the Tang dynasty. It would be rash to attempt a translation of these tracts into English without aid or direction — nor would the present writer have undertaken such a task — but, fortunately, there is a parallel translation from the Tibetan in Vassilief's History of Buddhism (Second Supplement, p. 222). This translation by the learned writer named above was prepared after careful comparison of the Tibetan text with the three Chinese versions. The result is no doubt an accurate, though most obscure, reproduction of the work by Vasumitra. It may perhaps be useful to attempt an independent version of the three Chinese translations. Not that we can hope to render all plain, but with the purpose of inducing scholars in China to look into this matter, and endeavour to throw some light on the subject by comparing these translations and working independently in the production of others. The matter may appear of little consequence to some, and needless labour to others, but in the presence of facts, which are daily coming to our knowledge, it becomes almost the duty of those who are interested in the religious development of the Eastern mind, not only in India, but in other conntries more or less affected by Indian speculations, to search out the causes and the character of that development, and so connect it with the religions movements which occurred elsewhere about the same time. We proceed to give part of the translation by the anonymous Chinese writer, and which stands first in the Buddhist Canon.[3]



[300] An Account of the Eighteen Principal Schools of Buddhism, from the original Treatise of Vasumitra, translated into Chinese by three separate authors.

1. A treatise on the eighteen schools
(translator's name unknown).

In the 15th section of the latter volume of the work known as the Queries of Manjušrî (Manjušriparip.richchhâ), the subject being "The division into schools." [It is thus written:]

   At this time Manjušrî questioned Buddha thus: "World-honoured! Explain, I pray you, what will be the different schools into which your followers will be separated in the future after your Nirvâ.na, and from what original division these schools will be formed?"

   Buddha answered Manjušrî thus: "There will be twelve schools among my followers hereafter, in which (the separate interpretation of) my law will be preserved in the world. These schools will be the repositories of the diversified fruits of my Scriptures (pi.takas) without priority or inferiority — just as the taste of sea-water is everywhere the same — or as the twelve sons of one man all honest and true, so will be the exposition of my doctrine advocated by these schools. Manjušrî! the two original germs of these separate schools will be found in the rendering of my doctrine by the Mahâyâna and the Prajñâpâramitâ systems. The Šrâvakas, Pratyeka Buddhas, and different Buddhas (i.e., the doctrine which teaches these three degrees of religious advancement) will come from the Prajñâpâramitâ, Manjušrî! as earth, water, fire, wind and space compose the material and visible universe, so the Mahâyâna and the Prajñâpâramitâ compose the material of the system in which these different degrees of Šrâvakas, Pratyeka-Buddhas, and Buddhas are entertained."

   Manjušrî asked Buddha this question: "World-honoured! and by what names will these schools be known?"

   Buddha replied: "The two schools first formed will be 'the Mahâsâ"mghikas[4] and the Pi-li'[5] (Sthaviras). Within a hundred years after my Nirvâ.na a school will be formed called 'Yeb-wu-in'[6] [Ekabhyohârikhâs (Burnouf, tom. I, p. 357), or Ekavyavahârikâs (according to Vassilief's Buddhism, p. 227, n.)]. Again, within a hundred years from the formation of this school, another will be formed called 'Ko-kiu-li'[7] [Kukkulikâs]. Within a hundred years from this another school will arise called To-man[8] (Bâhušrutiyas). Within a hundred years from this there will be another school formed, called 'Che-tai-ho'[9] [Chaitiyavâdâs]. Within another hundred years a school will arise called 'Eastern Mountain'[10] [Pûrvašailâs]. Within a hundred years another school will arise from this called 'Northern Mountain'[11] [Uttarašailâs]. These seven schools come from the Mahâsâ"mghikâs, and including the original Sa"mgha, or congregation, they are classified as eight schools.

"From the Sthaviras were formed eleven schools. Within a hundred years from the origin of the above school, there arose another, called 'Yeh-tsai-wu-in'[12] (Sarvâstivâdas). Within a hundred years from this school proceeded another, called 'Yun-shan'[13] (Haimavatâs). Within a hundred years from this school another will arise, called 'Vâtsiputriyas'[14] (sons of the calf). Within a hundred years after this another school called 'Dharmottarîyas.'[15] Within a hundred years from this another called 'Bhadrâyanîyas.'[16] Within a hundred years from this school will come another called 'Yih-tsai-sho-kwei'[17] (Sammatîyas). Within a hundred years another school will arise from this, called 'Jing-shan'[18] (Jungle-hill, i.e., Shâ.n.nagarika). Within a hundred years after this arose another school called 'Tai-puh-ho-ki'[19] [301](Mahîšâsakas). Within a hundred years from this arose the school called 'Fau'[20] (Dharmaguptâs). Within a hundred years another school arose called 'Ka-hi-pi'[21] (Kâšyapîyas). Within a hundred years from this another school arose named 'Sieon-to-lo-ku'[22] (Samkantikâs or Sautrântikâs). The above are the eleven schools derived from the Sthaviras, and including their mother-school, comprise twelve distinct branches."

   Buddha spoke the following gâthas: —

"The school of the Mahâsâ"mghikas
Will divide into seven parts,
The Sthavirâs into eleven,
This is what we term the twelve schools,[23]
The eighteen including the two original,
All these will arise from the Mahâyâna,
Which admits of neither affirmation or contradiction.
Now I say that in future time will appear,
The miscellaneous writings of the Master Kumârajiva
After the cessation (nirvâ.na) of the true Law,
Just one hundred years;
And by these various productions
The true Law will be gradually destroyed,
Everyone forming his own views,
Founding their opinions on heterodox sects,
Despising that which ought to be honoured.
A rebellious and discontented tone will arise
But now the Sûtras alone are the ground
On which to build the doctrine of Buddha,
Relying on the former truths.
Seeking a foundation on this solid basis,
Is like in the multitude of sand particles
Seeking for the true gold.
Thus have I heard former sages,
Who appear like suns among men."

"One hundred and sixteen years after the Nirvâ.na of Buddha (in a) city called 'I-ta-fuh,' (I for Pa, therefore equivalent to Pa-ta-fuh, i.e., Pâtaliputra) there shall be a king called 'A-yu' (Ašoka) who shall gather (as in a square) the whole of Jambudwipa as his empire. In his time the division of the great congregation into schools shall begin. There shall arise a Bhikshu called 'Neng' (able), and another called 'Yin-un' (Nidâna), and another called 'To-man' (Bâhušrutiya ?) — these shall assert the necessity of teaching five propositions as a basis for religious instruction. The five Points are these: —

Profit and increase from others.
Words according to the religious formula.
To obtain reason.

"It was from a consideration of these questions that the first two schools arose, to wit, the Mahâsâ"mghikâs and the Sthavîras.[24]

"In the middle of the century (following) the Mahâsâ"mghikâs other schools arose as follows: — (1) 'Yih-shwo' [Ekavyavahârikâs], (2) 'Chu-shai-kan-shwo' [Lokottaravâdins], (3) 'Kiu-ku' [Gokulikas or Kukku.tikâs]. Again, in the middle of a century or so after the Mahâsâ"mghikas will originate other schools, called 'Shi-chi-lun.'[25]

"Again, in the middle of the two hundred years, the heretical followers of the Mahâdêva, taking on themselves the vows of religious ascetics, fixed their abode in Mount Chaitiya. Again, from the Mahâsâ"mghikas arose three other schools, viz. Che-tika, 'Huh-pi-lo' (Apara), and Uttarašaila. Thus, from the Mahâsâ"mghika arose nine schools, viz. (1) Mahâsâ"mghikas, (2) Ekavyavahârika, (3) Lokottaravâdin, (4) Gokulika, (5) Bâhušrutîya, (6) Shi-chi, (7) Yan-ka, (8) Ho-lo, (9) Uttarašaila.

"In the middle of the three hundred years from the Sthavira school, arose from Controversies connected with the Canon of the Abhidharma, different schools, as follows: (1) Sarvâstivâdin, also called Hetuvâda, (2) Haimavatas. In the middle of the three hundred years again there arose another school called Vâtsiputrîyâs, from this school sprang another, called Dharmagupta (or Dharmottarîyas), another called Bhadrâyanîyas, and again, another called Mi-lî (where li is evidently a mistake for ti), otherwise named San-mi-ti (Sammatîyas), another school called the school of the six cities (Shannagarikas). Again, in the three hundredth year, the Sarvâstivâdins produced another school, viz., Mahîšâsakas, from which sprang the Dharmaguptas (so called from the Master of the school, whose name [302] was In-chi-lin).[26][26] Again, in this three hundredth year, another school sprang from the Sarvâstivâdins, called Yan-li-sha (Varsha), likewise named Kâšyapiyas. In the four hundredth year from the Sarvâstavâdins sprang another school called Seng-kai-lin-to (Sa"mkrânti), so called from the name of its founder Yeou-to-lo (Uttara), this school was also known as Sautrântika.

"Thus, from the school of the Mahâsthaviras branched off twelve schools, viz. (1) Mahâsthaviras, (2) Haimavatas, (3) Sarvâstivâdins,(4) Vâtsiputrîyâs, (5) Dharmottarîyas,(6) Bhadrâyanîyas, (7) Sammatîyas, (8) The school of six Cities, (9) Mahîšâsikas, (10) Dharmaguptas, (11) Kâšyapîyas; (12) Sautrântikas."

We will now proceed to speak of the distinguishing tents {sic} of these various schools, both to their radical differences and also those held[27] in common.

The following schools, Mahasâ"mghikas, Ekavyavâhârikas, Lokottaras, Kukkutikas, hold the views we are about to mention. They all say that the traditions respecting the Buddhas having been born into the world (as men) are incorrect — that the law is Tathâgata, and the only one in the world. They all say that the (system of religion known as) 'turning the Wheel of the Law' is at an end. They say that "things exist," "relationships exist," "truth exists." They say that Tathâgata is infintely extended, immeasurably glorious, eternal in duration, that to his power of recollection (nim, smriti), his power of faith (srâddhabala), his experience of joy, and his life, there is no end; he sleeps not, he speaks, asks, reflects not; they say that his existence is ever one and uniform (one heart), that all things born may obtain deliverance by having his instruction, that in his essential existence (one heart, ekachitta) Tathâgata comprehends all subjects (laws) in a moment by his own wisdom.


[1] Ind. Ant. vol. IV, p. 363.

[2] By some he is placed rather later. — ED. I. A.

[3] This translation is denoted as C by Vassilief.]

[4] This word means the great congregation, composed of young and old alike, the same as the school of "various and miscellaneous Moral Rules." — [Ch. Ed.]

[5] This word means the congregation of old men only, it is the same as that which acknowledges the authority of tbe (original) Vinaya only.

[6] So called because they agreed in the main with the Mahâsanghikas. — [Ch. Ed.]

[7] From the name of the master who formed it. — [Ch. Ed.]

[8] So called from the "famous wisdom" of its founder. — [Ch. Ed.]

[9] So called from the locality in which the founder lived.

[10] So called from the locality in which the founder lived.

[11] Likewise from the abode of the founder.

[12] So called because the founder of the school held the positive existence of all things in the three worlds. — [Ch. Ed.]

[13] So called from the abode of the founder.

[14] From the name of the founder.

[15] From the name of the founder.

[16] From the name of the founder.

[17] So called from the great esteem in which the master was held among men.

[18] So called from the character of the place where the founder lived. The name in Sanskrit however means "of six towns," and so in Tibetan; see Vassilief, p. 231. — J.B.

[19] So called because the founder of this school was, when a child, cast into a well by his mother, and when his father sent to recover his body he was found uninjured.]

[20] The founder's name.

[21] The founder's name.

[22] The founder rested his deductions on the Sûtras.

[23] That is the twelve schools that sprung from the Mahâsthavirâs.

[24] In Chinese, "high-seat."

[25] I cannot explain this title at present. — S. B.]

[26] 26. Vide Vassilief, p. 232 n. 5.

[27] So I would translate "Chung-kan."]

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