The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Sarvāstivāda. The school of Sarvāstivāda was one of the so-called Eighteen Schools (nikāya, ācariyavāda) of early Buddhism. The term Sarvāstivāda is also used to designate the body of doctrine and literature associated with this community. The sociological nature of the group, however, remains unknown.
Existing knowledge of the history and teachings of the early schools is based on late sources, and there is little agreement among scholars as to the true affiliation of the sects mentioned in these sources.
There is, nevertheless, agreement among the classical sources on the derivation of the Sarvāstivāda from a main Sthavira trunk, most probably after the great schism that separated the early Sthavira from the Mahāsāṃghika.
The separation of Sarvāstivāda from its trunk of origin is supposed to have taken place at the Third Buddhist Council, held under King Aśoka. They separated from the Sthaviras according to some accounts, from the Mahīśāsaka, according to others.
It is known from inscriptional evidence that the area of greatest strength of the Sarvāstivāda was the Northwest, from Mathura to Afghanistan and the Central Asian desert. But they also were known in East and South India. Their influence extended to Indonesia, and, indirectly, to China.
The Sarvāstivādins received the royal patronage of Kaniṣka (second century ce). According to tradition, the Tripiṭaka of this school was finally closed during his reign. But it is not clear whether this legend is due to a confusion between the writing of their Abhidharma and the compilation of the canon.
But it is characteristic of this canon that in addition to the three traditional Piṭakas (Sūtra, Vinaya, and Abhidharma), it eventually developed a Kṣudraka Piṭaka to accommodate miscellaneous works of late origin.
The Madhyama Āgama found in the Chinese canon is definitely Sarvāstivādin; some scholars also regard the Chinese translation of the Saṃyuktāgama as of Sarvāstivāda origin, although this collection is probably a Mūlasarvāstivāda work.