The Sects of the Buddhists.
Davids. T. W. Rhys
The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
We find in the Dipavamsa (Chapter V. 39-48) a
list of the eighteen sects (or schools rather) into
which the Buddhists in India had,in the course of the
second century of the Buddhist era, been divided. In
the Mahavamsa (Chapter V.) there is a similar list,
evidently drawn from the same sources, but omitting
(in Turnour's texts) numbers 1-7 of the older list. It
is curious that precisely where these names ought to
come in (at line 5), the text given by Turnour is
evidently corrupt, a half-sloka at least being
missing, and probably more.(1)
So far as is yet known these eighteen sects are
not elsewhere mentioned in Pali literature,
excepting only in the commentary on the Katha Vatthu,
edited by the late Professor Minayeff, for the Pali
Text Society, in 1889. The book itself, composed by
Moggali-putta Tissa, about 240 B.C., deals with a
number of ethical points which were then matters of
controversy; and it is the greatest pity that, owing
to want of funds, the Pali Text Society has not yet
been able to publish it. But the commentary, short as
it is (only 200 pages in the journal of the Pali Test
Society), gives the name of the particular sect
against which certain of the arguments are directed.
These data are very important. Following the list
of the eighteen sects in the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa
above re ferred to is another list of six later
sects, the names of which, with one exception, are
derived from places, presumably the places where the
sects in question took their origin. Now we
1 Since the above was written I find that the missing
passage has actually been found by Batuwan Tudawa.
It contains exactly what we find in the Dipavamsa.
find that in a large majority (about ninety as
against about forty-five) of the cases in which the
commentary gives the name of the sect referred to,
the names are those of these six later sects. And of
the forty-five directed against the eighteen older
schools, sixteen are directed against one, nineteen
against another, and seven against a third (only four
others of the eighteen being mentioned at all, and
three of these four being referred to only once.)
There is every reason to believe that the
commentator's statements as to the sects against whom
his author's arguments were directed are, so far as
they go, correct. When we have the text before us we
may be able to specify others. But we may fairly draw
the conclusion that already in the time of Asoka only
seven of the eighteen sects had retained any
prtactical importance at all, and that of these seven
only three, or perhaps four, were still vigorous and
This will be made plainer by the following table,
in which I have first arranged the list given in both
the Ceylon chronicles (and derived by both from the
history handed down in the Maha Vihara at
Anuradhapura) in such a way as to show the
relationship of these eighteen Hinayana sects one to
another. To each sect I have then added the pages of
the commentary on the Katha Vatthu, in which it is
specifically referred to by name.(1)
1 The Maha-bodhivamsa, being edited this year for the
Pali Text Society, also gives the eighteen schools
of Buddhists in India. But its data are merely
derived from the older Ceylon sources, and it adds
All our Ceylon information is really derived from the
Mahavihara at Anuradhapura.
Three of the eighteen sects have been found in
inscriptions of the second and third century
A.D.--The Bhadrayaniya in the ''Archaeological
Survey of Western India," II. 85; IV. 109-111--the
Cetika, ibid. IV. 115, and "Arch. Survey of
Southern India," I. 100--and the Mahasamghika in
the "Arch. Survey of Western India," IV. 113.
TABLE I. SECTS OF THE HINAYANA.
(A. The eighteen sects.)
5. Bhaddayanika, 58.
6. Channagarika (Dip. Chanda, and Cy On
Katha Vatthu Channa) 3.
7. Sammitiya, 42, 58, 67, 68, 97, 106, 110,
111, 112, 114, 123, 127, 129, 150, 156,
160, 161, 162. 174 (total 19).
3. Mahigsasaka, 60, 90, 92, 111, 123, 160, 173, 181.
8. Sabbatthivada (Dip. Sabbattha-), 43, 58, 132.
10. Kassapika, 50.
13. Mahasangitikaraka = Mahasamghika, 123-129, 131, 135,
136, 147, 152, 154, 158, 176, 189, 190 (total 16).
14. Gokulika, 58.
16. Bahussutaka = Bahulika.
All these 18 arose in 100-200 A.B. (Dip. 5.
53=Mah. 5. 8).
1 This school was very probably the source of the
schools of the Eastern and Western Caves at
Dhanakataka (the Pubba- and Apara-selika of Table
I. (B.)) as its name occurs once on the Amaravati
Tope in the description of one of the donors, a
member of the order resident in one or other of
these mountain Viharas.
TABLE I. HINAYANA (continued).
(B. Later sects in India.)
2-5. Andhaka, 52, 58, 59, 60, 62, 63, 65, 67, 68,
71, 78, 79, 80, 81, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 89,
92, 93, 101, 102, 103, 105, 109, 110, 111,
115, 117, 118, 121, 122, 130, 133, 144, 149,
150, 151, 156, 161, 162, 163, 172, 173, 174,
177, 180, 184, 185, 189, 190, 193, 197, 198
2. Rajagirika, 1, 94-99, 140, 154, 163, 164.
3. Siddhatthika, 94-99, 163. 164.
4. Pubbaselika, 54, 56, 90, 106, 108, 109, 112, 114. Andhaka
5. Aparaselika, 54, 55, 56, 143, 148, 159, 187.
6. Vadariya (so in Mah. The Dip. 5. 54, has Aparo
Rajagiriko, and the Cy on the Katha. Vatthu, p.5,
calls them Vajariya and Vajiriya).
(C. Later sects in Ceylon.)
1. Dhammaruciya (B.C. 90).
2. Sagaliya (A.D. 251).
3. Dathavedhaka (A.D. 601).
But the commentator mentions also five sects with
names not occurring in Table I. I give these sects,
therefore, in a separate table, again adding all the
pages in which they are referred to.
1. Uttarapathaka, 73, 81, 82, 92, 105, 117, 118,
119, 132, 137, 139, 141, 144, 145, 148, 149, 151,
160, 170, 172, 177, 179, 180, 183, 188, 191, 193,
194, 195, 197, 198 (total 34).
2. Vibhajjavadino, 6 (=Thera-vadino).
3. Vetulyaka, 167, 171, 197.
4. Sunnatavada, 167.
5. Hetuvada, 153, 154, 156, 158, 166, 181, 184, 198.
We can now, therefore, in a third table, give the
names of the sects which are, so far, known to have
been considered as of real practical importance in the
time of Asoka, or rather when the Katha Vatthu was
TABLE III. SECTS IN ASOKA'S TIME.
1. Thera-vadino (=Vibhajja-vadino), the old
school, to which Moggaliputta Tissa himself
and the authors of the Ceylon commentaries,
2. Sammitiya (derived from the above, but existing
only on the Continent).
3. Mahimsasaka, with their subdivision, the
5-8. The Andhra sects, with four subdivisons. (see
Table I. B.).
9. The Mahasamghika.
10. The Uttarapathaka.
It will not be possible till we get the text of
the Katha Vatthu to show the exact nature of the
differences by which these sects were distinguished.
But it is already clear from the commentary, which
shows the nature of the questions at issue, that they
one and all looked upon Arahatship (not Bodisatship)
as the ideal of a good Buddhist, and were really much
alike in essentials, not differing more than the
various sects of Protestants do to-day.
The above results are entirely confirmed by such
other evidence of value as is accessible to us. 'We
have two important Hinayana books in Sanskrit, the
Divyavadana and the Mahavastu, accessible to scholars
in critical editions. The former mentions no sects,
and though its ethical teach ing, as is natural in a
story-book, is put in the background, it contains
very little that is contradictory to the older
teaching. The latter purports to belong (see vol. i.
p. 2, line 13) to the Lokottaravadins, a sect of the
Mahasamghika (who are supposed to have been the
furthest removed from the school of the Theras). But
there is very little in its teaching which could not
have been developed from the Thera-vada; and it also
differs from the Pali texts in the lower general
tone--in the prominence given to legendary matter,
and in the consequent inattention to ethical points,
and the details of Arahatship--rather than by the
enunciation of new and divergent doctrines.
We find a similar confirmation of our Katha
Vatthu commentator if we look at the names of the
sects referred to by the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims.
These are shown in the following table.
TABLE IV. SECTS MENTIONED BY FA HIAN AND
A. By Fa Hian.
In Lob and Karaschar the Hinayana, Ch. 2.
,, Khoten . . . . . ,, Mahayana, Ch. 3.
,, the Dard Country. ,, Hinayana, Ch. 6.
,, Udyana. . . . ,, Hinayana, Ch. 8.
,, Panjab. . . . ,, both, Ch. 14, 15.
,, Kanauj. . . . . ,, Hinayana, Ch. 18.
,, the Middle Country.,, 96 sects, Ch. 20 (apparently
,, Kosambi. . . . ,, Hinayana, Ch. 34.
,, Patna. . . . . ,, Mahasamghika, Ch. 36.
,, India. . . . . ,, 18 sects, Ch. 36.
,, Patna (and China) .,, Sabbatthi-vada, Ch. 36.
,, Ceylon . . . . . ,, Mahimsasaka, Ch. 40.
B. By Yuan Thsang.
In Gaz . . . . . . the Sabbatthivada, 1. 49 (trans.
,, Bamiyan . . . . . ,, Lokottaravadino, 1. 50.
,, Kapisa . . . . . ,, mostly Mahayana, 1. 55.
,, India. . . . . ,, 18 schools (apparently both
Hina- and Maha-yana!)
,, Gandhara . . . . ,, Hina-yana, 1. 104.
,, Po-lu-sha, . . . . ,, Hina-yana, 1. 112.
,, Udyana . . . . ,, Maha-yana, 1. 120, and also
Nos. 3, 8, 9, 10, 13, of
Table I. (A), 1. 121.
,, Takshasila . . . . ,, Mahayana, 1. 137.
,, Kashmir . . . . ,, Mahasamghika, 1. 162.
,, Sagala . . . . . . ,, Hinayana, 1. 172.
,, Kuluta . . . . . ,, Mahayana, 1. 177.
,, ? . . . . . ,, Hinayana, 1. 179.
,, Mathura . . . . ,, both, 1. 180.
,, Sthanesvara . . . ,, Hinayana, 1. 184.
,, Srughna. . . . ,, Hinayana, 1. 187.
In Rohilkund .... the Hinayana (Sabbatthivadino)
1. 190, 192, 196.
,, Govisana . . . . ,, Hinayana, 1. 200.
,, Pi-lo-shan-na. . . ,, Mahayapa, 1. 201.
,, Ahikshetra. . . ,, Sammitiya, 1. 200.
,, Kapitha. . . . ,, Sammitiya, 1. 102.
,, Kanauj . . . . ,, both H. and M., 1. 207.
,, Navadevakula. . . .,, Sabbatthivadino, 1. 224.
,, Audh . . . . ,, both, 1. 225.
,, Hayamukha . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 1. 230.
,, Prayaga . . . . ,, Hinayana, 1. 231.
,, Kosambi . . . . ,, Hinayana, 1. 235.
,, Visakha . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 1. 239-40.
,, Sravasti . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 2. 2.
,, Kapilavastu . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 2. 14.
,, Benares . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 2. 44, 45.
,, Ghazipur . . . . ,, Hinayapa, 2. 61.
,, Mahasala . . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 65.
,, Svetapura (?). . . .,, Mahayana, 2. 75.
,, Vajjians . . . . ,, both, 2. 78.
,, Nepal . . . . ,, both, 2. 81.
,, Magadha . . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 82.
,, ,, . . . . ,, both, 2, 103, 104.
,, Gaya . . . . ,, Mahayana of the Sthavira
School, 2. 133.
,, Pigeon Vihara . . ,, Sabbatthivada, 2. 182.
,, Mongir . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 2. 186.
,, Campa . . . . ,, Hinayana, 2. 192.
,, Po-chi-po Vihara . ,, Mahayana, 2. 195.
,, Pundra . . . . ,, both, 2. 195.
,, Bengal . . . . ,, Sthavira, 2. 199.
,, Bhagalpur . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 2. 201.
,, Orissa . . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 204.
,, Kalinga . . . . ,, Sthavira school, 2. 208.
,, Kosala . . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 210.
,, Dhanakataka . . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 221. (Here
are the Pubbasela and
In Kancipura . . . . the Sthavira, 2. 229.
,, Ceylon . . . . ,, Sthavira, 2. 247.
,, Konkana . . . . ,, both, 2. 254.
,, Mahrattas . . . ,, both, 2. 257.
,, Baroach . . . . ,, Sthavira, 2. 260.
,, Malva . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 2. 261.
,, Kachch . . . . ,, Hinayana & Mahayana, 2. 266.
,, Valabhi . . . . ,, Sammitya, 2. 266.
,, Surat . . . . ,, Sthavira, 2. 269.
,, Gurjara . . . . ,, Sabbatthivada, 2. 270.
,, Ujjen . . . . ,, both, 2. 270.
,, N. Sindh . . . . ,, Sammitiya, 2. 272.
,, Parvata (Po-fa-to) . ,, both, 2. 275.
,, Kurachi (?) . . . ,, Samittiya, 2. 276.
,, Lang-kia-lo . . . ,, both, 2. 277.
,, Persia . . . ,, Sabbatthivada, 2. 278.
,, Pi-to-shi-lo . . ,, Sammitiya, 2. 279.
,, O-fan-cha . . . ,, Sammitiya, 2, 280.
,, Fa-la-na . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 281.
,, Ghazni . . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 284.
,, Hwoh . . . . ,, both, 2. 288.
,, Och . . . . ,, Sabbatthivada, 2. 304.
,, Kashgar . . . . ,, Sbbatthivada, 2. 307.
,, Cho-kiu-kia . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 308.
,, Khoten . . . . ,, Mahayana, 2. 309.
On these lists it may be noted that Fa Hian knows
of the list of eighteen Hinayana sects (see Ch.
XXXVI.); but he mentions by name only three; and
those three are precisely those three of the eighteen
which, in our Table No. 1, are shown to have been,
together with the Sammitiya, the most important in
Asoka's time. Further, Fah Hian only knows of one
other sect, the Mahayanists, and of them only in
Khoten and the Panjab. Similarly the Katha Vatthu
mentions only one other sect as at all of equal
importance with those just referred to; and that sect
is that of the "Northerners," the Uttarapathaka. The
undesigned coincidence between the two authors is
as complete as it is striking.
Yuan Thsang goes into much greater detail, but
his statements are quite consistent with those of
the earlier authors. He finds the Mahasamghika only
in Kashmir, and there only in small numbers (100),
and a subdivision of that school, that is the
Lokottara-vadins, only in Bamiyan. Further down on
the continent that school seems, in his time, to have
passed over bodily to the Mahayanists. But the
Hinayanists are still much the more widely
distributed, and also more numerous; and of their
subdivisions it is precisely those mentioned as
important by the earlier writers who recur in Yuan
Thsang. He also in most cases gives an estimate of
the actual number of Bhikshus in each country. But
before discussing these numbers it is necessary to
notice the statement, astounding at first sight,
that the 20, 000 Bhikshus in Ceylon were then
Yuan Thsang admits that the Ceylonese were
originally Hinaynists, but he explains the change
by a division of opinion which took place between the
Bhikshus resident at the capital, in the Maha Vihara,
and in the Abhayagiri Vihara (the latter drifting
towards the Mahayana). This division he dates about
200 years after Mahinda's time, that is to say,
shortly before the Christian era. He is referring
evidently to the same schism as that described in the
commentary on the Mahavamsa (Turnour, p. 53)), which
is there dated about 90 B.C., and is said to have
arisen between the residents at these two great
Viharas. As the whole of the voluminous Pali
literature of Ceylon in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and
later centuries, is written entirely from the Thera-
vada standpoint, it is clear that Yuan Thsang, who
did not himself visit Ceyion, either misunderstood or
was misinformed as to the side on which the
preponderance, in his time, lay. And when he adds
that the particular school of the Mahayanists to
which the Ceylonese Buddhists belonged was the
Sthavira or Thera school, it can scarcely be doubted
that he (or his informant) had in view the Theravada
school to which we know the Ceylonese almost ex
clusively adhered. A Thera school of the Mahayanists
has not been found mentioned in any other author, and
Sthavira school is elsewhere referred to as
identical with the Thera-vada, the most fundamentally
Hinayanist of all the sects.
Taking this to be so, it will be of value to
arrange in another table, according to sects, the
data given by Yuan Thsang, adding the numbers of the
Bhikshus where he gives numbers.
TABLE V. NUMBERS GIVEN BY YUAN THSANG.
1. Sthavira sect (Thera-vadino).
In Gaya 1000 (in a Vihara founded by
a Ceylon king).
,, East Bengal 2000
,, Kalinga 500
,, Kancipura 10,000
,, Ceylon 20,000
,, Bharukaccha 300
,, Surattha 3000
2. Sammitiya (No. 7 of Table I.).
In Ahikshetra 1000
,, Sankassa 100
,, Hayamukha 1000
,, Visakha 3000
,, Savatthi few
,, Kapila-vatthu 30 (text has 3000)
,, Benares 3000
,, Migadaya 1500
,, Mungiri 4000
,, Bhagalpur 2000
,, Malva 2000
,, Valabhi 6000
,, N. Sindh 10,000
,, Kurachi 5000
,, Pi-to-shi-lo 3000
,, Avanti (?) 2000
3. Sabbatthivadino (No. 8 in Table I.)
In Balk 200
,, Ma-ti-pu-lo (Rohilkund) 800
,, Pigeon Vihara 200
,, Kanauj 500
,, Gurjara 100
,, Persia several hundred
,, Och several hundred
,, Kashgar 10,000
More than 12,000
4. Lokottaravadino (probably=No. 14 of Table I. A.).
In Bamiyan 1000
5. Hinayana, without mention of any one of the
In Sagala 100
,, Sthanesvara 700
,, Srughna 1000
,, Govisana, 100
,, Kosambi 300
,, Ghazipur (near Benares) 1000
,, Campa 200
In Kapisa (Hindukush) 6000
,, Uyyana (so at 1. 120. But the schools
are given, p. 121, and they all
belong to the Hinayana !)
,, Kuluta (on the Upper Biyas) 1000
,, Pi-lo-shan-na 500
,, Ti-lo-shia-kia (20m. W. of Nalanda)1000
,, Po-chi-po Khara 700
,, Orissa 10,000
,, South Kosala 10,000
,, Dhanakataka 1000
,, Fa-la-na 300
,, Ghazni 1000
,, Cho-kiu-kia 500
,, Khoten 1000
7. Bhikshus who study both Hina- and Maha-yana.
In Mathura (on the Jumna) 2000
,, Kanauj 10,000
,, Audh 3000
,, Vajjians 1000
,, Nepal 2000
,, Magadha 10,000
,, Pundra 3000
,, Konkana 10,000
,, Mahrattas 5000
,, Ujjen 300
,, Po-fa-to 1000
,, Lang-kia-lo 6000
,, Hwoh 200
,, Och 1000
Totals of above.
Sthavira 36,800 ¿
Sammitiya 43,630 ³
Sabbatthivadino 12,000 96,430
Lokottaravadino 1000 ³
(No name) 3400Ù
Both Hina- and Mahayana 54,500
(Total numbers of the Order) 182,930
These numbers are exclusive of those, not many
cases, where it is said there were 'few' at any
place. They show that Yuan Thsang estimated the
Buddhist Bhikshus in India and the adjacent countries
to the N.W. towards the close of the seventh century
of our era at less than two hundred thousand. And
further that, in his opinion, about three- fourths of
them studied at that time what he called the 'Little
Vehicle,' and about one-fourth of them what he called
the 'Great Vehicle.'
Besides the above statements, we have others from
Tibetan books of the tenth and following centuries,
which will be of value, inasmuch as they attempt to
give not only the genealogy of the sects (their
relation to one another), but also a summary of their
special doctrines. Mr. Rockhill, to whom we owe the
best existing summary of these statements,(1) says
of these as to doctrine that " the theories of the
different schools are unfortunately given... so
concisely that it is a difficult, if not an
impossible task, to give a satisfactory translation
of them." And the statements as to the origin of the
sects are so confused, and even contradictory, that
very little can be made out of them. Taranatha (of
the seventeenth century) gives another account of the
origin of the sects drawn principally from the same
Tibetan sources as Mr. Rockhill summarises at greater
length (Taranatha, pp. 270-273). It is plain that all
these Tibetan data rest upon earlier Sanskrit
summaries, and go back eventually to a tradition
which, when it is fully known, will probably confirm,
and even perhaps add to, the data derived from the
I would add that in an essay in the Asiatic
Researches (Vol. XVI. pp.424 fol., written in 1828),
Mr. Hodgson has given us a somewhat extended summary
of four later schools in Nepaul, none of which are
even mentioned in the foregoing works. These are:
TABLE VI. NEPAUL SECTS.
1. The Svabhavika.
2. The Aisvarika.
3. The Karmika.
4. The Yatnika
They are all probably Mahayanist, and if so are
the only subdivisions of that school known to us by
1 In his '' Life of the Buddha," Chapter VI.
2 Mr. Beal, in the " Indian Antiquary." ix. 300,
gives us the same details as we find in Mr.
Rockhill, but through a Chinese instead of a
Hodgson does not refer to any Sanskrit
authority, and is apparently quoting the verbal
statements of a Nepal pandit. And, notwithstanding
the lapse of time, the sects thus named have not yet
been found in any Buddhist author.
Finally we have the following list of Buddhist
schools known to Sayana-Madhava, in the fourteenth
century A.D. in South India.(1)
1. The Vaibhashika.
2. The Yogacara.
3. The Sautrantika.
4. The Madhyamika.
The conclusion I would venture to draw is that
our best authorities are really at harmony; and that
the history of the Buddhist sects is not the confused
and hopeless muddle it has been often supposed to be,
but only awaits the publication of the texts, and
especially of the Katha Vatthu, to be capable of
reconstruction in an intelligible and fairly
1 Sarva Darsana Sangraha, Chapter III.