The Mūlasarvāstivādins of Mathura
There are two main reasons why the Mūlasarvāstivāda school is important.
Unfortunately, this is far from clear.
Their Vinaya is extensive, and most modern scholars have tended to see it as late.
Nevertheless, some scholars have claimed that it shows signs of early features in some respects.
This should not surprise us, as the whole has evidently been amassed over a vast period of time, and must incorporate material from greatly different eras.
The uncertainty around this school has fuelled a number of hypotheses.
Frauwallner’s theory is that the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya was the disciplinary code of an early Buddhist community based in Mathura, which was quite independent as a monastic community from the Sarvāstivādins of Kaśmir (although of course this does not mean that they were different in terms of doctrine).
Warder suggests that the Mūlasarvāstivādins were a later development of the Sarvāstivāda, whose main innovations were literary, the compilation of the large Vinaya and the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna Sūtra,247 which kept the early doctrines but brought the style up to date with contemporary literary tastes.248
Meanwhile, Willemen, Dessein, and Cox have developed the theory that the Sautrantikas, a branch or tendency within the Sarvāstivādin group of schools, emerged in Gandhāra and Bactria around 200 CE.
For the remainder of this chapter I am mainly concerned with drawing out the implications of this theory.
However, since this particular scenario is controversial, I will also examine another possibility.
If Frauwallner is wrong, and the Sarvāstivādins and Mūlasarvāstivādins are not derived from separate Vinaya communities, it would then be likely that they are related to each other in some way.
Perhaps the same school maintained different textual recensions of the Vinaya while remaining unified in practical matters.
But starting off with Frauwallner, the gist of his theory is this.
However, this section has been arbitrarily inserted in the text, showing that it is a later interpolation.251
The earlier portions point to a connection with Mathura.
This argument has recently been restated by Wynne, who defends Frauwallner’s thesis, and adds the suggestion that the Mathura community later moved to Kaśmīr, where they came into conflict with the Vaibhāśikas over who could claim to be the ‘real’ Sarvāstivādins.252
Thus Frauwallner’s theory holds that the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is the disciplinary code of a Buddhist community based in Mathura. A key piece of evidence is the statement by Kumārajīva in his translation of the Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa:
The second part, the Vinaya of Kaśmīr, has excluded the Jātaka and Avadāna;253 accepting only the essentials, it forms ten sections. There is, however, a commentary (vibhāṣā) in eighty sections which explains it.’254
We are, then, justified in equating these two Vinayas with the Vinayas mentioned by Kumārajīva. Frauwallner notes significant differences between these two Vinayas, and would regard the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya as in many respects closer to the other missionary schools,
and probably springing from that source, while the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is an independent early lineage.
It can hardly be a coincidence, then, that of all the Vinayas known to us, the only one that features the avadānas so strongly hails from the home town of the great Elder so closely associated with this class of literature.
The background for this event is given briefly in the Pali commentary, which says that when the Buddha visited Mathura, he was greeted by a naked yakkhinī, who tried to either terrify or seduce him (or more likely both), out of fear he would convert all her devotees.257
This episode is drawn out in full detail in the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya, both in the Gilgit manuscripts258 and the Chinese, and appears to have become the source of a Mūlasarvāstivādin apologetic for Mathura, which I will briefly summarize.
The Buddha visited Mathura and was greeted by the Brahman householders, although they were initially suspicious because it was said he did not properly respect Brahmans. Nevertheless, he taught Nīlabhūti a lesson on the caste system and they were all converted.
The final name is not equivalent to any of the names in the Gilgit Mss, but would seem very likely to be none other than the famous Hārītī, originally a goddess of smallpox in Rajagaha, who went on to have a glorious career in Buddhist popular culture, and indeed even thrives today in far off Japan.
The townsfolk built 2500 monasteries, one for each of the 2500 yakkhas who have been converted.
While the missions legend depicts Kuntī as a sweet woodlands nymph, elsewhere she takes on a more terrifying mien. The Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya shows her aspect as a vicious ogress who devours children.264
One of the Elders at that Council is Śāṇavāsin, the preceptor of Upagupta, both of who are local saints of Mathura. Mathura, then, would have had a continuous occupation of Buddhist monks from the Buddha’s lifetime or shortly after.
The community at Mathura could thus rightly regard themselves as an original community. Nevertheless, they were far enough from the main early center around Pāṭaliputta to remain a little distant from the controversies.
While they were involved in the Second Council, this was the last time Buddhist monks from all districts gathered as one. There is no evidence that the Mathuran community took part in later Councils.
So it seems that the Mathuran community—perhaps like many others—did not participate directly in the early schismatic movements.
They developed their own scriptures, inspired by Upagupta’s style, and it seems plausible that some of the early Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma ideas may have emerged here, though this is purely speculative.
They are not referred to in the Mahāvihāravāsin account of the Third Council, not because they were in any sense heretical, but simply because they were an already established community who did not need missionizing.
In the early years there would, of course, be no need for this community to call itself by any sectarian name, since it was just another branch of the Buddhist Sangha. By the first century CE the name Sarvāstivāda appears in the Mathura region.
Much later the term Mūlasarvāstivāda came into use, perhaps when the Mathura community came into competition with the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins of Kaśmir and wished to assert their primacy.
Before the Third Council, Moggaliputtatissa saw the troubles brewing in the capital of Pāṭaliputta, and so went to practice at the same Ahogaṅga/Urumuṇḍa mountain monastery founded by Śāṇavāsin, which was renowned as the foremost of all places for samatha meditation.
This is perfectly plausible as history, but it also creates Moggaliputtatissa’s mythos: by staying in the forest monastery frequented by the great meditation masters Śāṇavāsin and Upagupta, his charisma as a realized master is assured.
He shows this spiritual power to Aśoka when he descends from the Ahogaṅga monastery. Aśoka is convinced that he is the only monk capable of stabilizing Buddhism, and hence invites Moggaliputtatissa to preside at the Third Council.
Obviously this was not, from a vibhajjavādin perspective, a schismatic community. At the time of the missions the Sangha of Mathura, whose Vinaya we now possess under the name of the Mūlasarvāstivāda, were clearly within the circle of the vibhajjavādins.
Merchant’s son Merchant’s son
I suggest that there were two separate narratives, one of the lineage of Elders, and one of the Second Council. In these, the same Elder might be known by different names.
To corroborate this, the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is the only one of the Vinayas that directly combines the lineage of Elders with the Second Council. And there we find the name Śāṇaka 272 in the lineage, but Yang-dag skyes (= Sambhūta) in the Second Council.273
Similarly, where the Samantapāsādikā, in comparing Moggaliputtatissa’s work to the Theras of old, refers to Kassapa at the First Council and Yasa at the Second Council, the Sudassanavinayavibhāsā mentions Kassapa and Soṇaka.274
Now, Soṇaka/Śāṇavāsin is of course the preceptor of Upagupta; but he is also the preceptor of Siggava,276 who in turn is Moggaliputtatissa’s preceptor.277 Thus, if our idea is correct, Moggaliputtatissa inherited the same ordination lineage as the Mūlasarvāstivādins of Mathura.
9.4 The dragons of Kaśmīr
Those scholars who are not prepared to accept the Mathuran origins of the Mūlasarvāstivāda usually look to to the Northwest, especially Kaśmīr, for the home of this school. In this case we need to return to the missions accounts for information.
After the settling of the problems in the Sangha at the Third Council, Moggaliputtatissa decides that Buddhism would become well established in the border regions, and sends out missionaries across India.
This is mentioned in the commentarial accounts, and confirmed in the Dīpavaṁsa.278 While the missionary story is, in general, mainly known from the southern sources, in this case there is one Chinese text that says that Majjhantika and Mahinda were told by Ānanda himself to go to, respectively, Kaśmīr and Sri Lanka.279
In addition the Mahākarmavibhaṅga, describing missionary work by arahants of the Buddha’s day, mentions Madhyandina subduing the dragons of Kaśmīr, and Mahendra overcoming of the Rakṣasas of Siṁhaladvīpa.280 Thus the northern and southern sources are in perfect agreement.
Kaśmīr became the main centre for the Sarvāstivādins, so the story of Majjhantika recurs throughout the Sarvāstivādin influenced literature, including the Aśokarājasūtra,281 Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya,282 etc.
But this scenario depends on the underlying assumption that sarvāstivāda and vibhajjavāda are opposing schools. In fact, there is no reason why Majjhantika should not have held opinions which we know of as sarvāstivādin while still in Pāṭaliputta,
but these were not felt at the time to lie outside the spectrum of acceptable views; or perhaps he had no decided view on that point at that time; or perhaps he never held sarvāstivādin views but was tolerant of his followers who did; and so on.
The point is that we don’t have to think in terms of mutually opposing schools in such a complex and fluid situation.
Thus it would seem to pre-date the compilation of the Vibhāṣā.
It mentions the following teachers:
When it comes to the Sthaviras, he says that in the first 200 years there was the succession of teachers:
From Kassapa to Mecaka was 200 years, during which period there was no schism.286 At the beginning of the third century, Kātyāyanīputra passed away, and there was a split into two schools, Sthaviras and Sarvāstivādins.
Since Pūrṇa, there had been a gradual drifting away from the essentials, especially an excessive promotion of Abhidhamma over the Suttas. To escape the controversy, the Sthaviras went to the Himalayan region, and henceforth were called the Haimavatas.287
This account matches well with the picture we have drawn from the Pali sources. Both Moggaliputtatissa and Pūrṇa are separated from the Second Council by one ‘generation’ in the lineages, which puts them as approximate contemporaries around the time of Aśoka.
The connection between Moggaliputtatissa and the Abhidhamma is central to his identity: not only does he compose the core of the Kathāvatthu, but his first interest in investigating Buddhism is sparked by hearing a cryptic Abhidhamma phrase from the Cittayamaka, described as the ‘Buddhamantra’.
This description of a long period of gestation and discussion, eventually resulting in division, is far more plausible than the more radical accounts of instant schism.
247 T № 721, T № 722, T № 728.
248 WARDER, 393–394.
249 Charles Willemen, xi–xiii.
252 WYNNE, 29ff.
254 T25, № 1509, p. 756, c2–6.
256 Aṅguttara Nikāya 5.220.
257 Aṅguttara Aṭṭhakathā 2.646.
258 Gilgit Mss. 3, pt. 1:14–15.
259 我等所生孩子。皆被侵奪 (T24, № 1448, p. 43, c2).
260 池 chi, pond.
262 T24, № 1448, p. 42, c7–p. 43, c18.
267 Pali Vinaya 2.298: Tena kho pana samayena āyasmā sambhūto sāṇavāsī ahogaṅge pabbate paṭivasati.
268 Samantapāsādikā 1.53.
269 Variation between these forms can occur even within different recensions of the same text. Thus Mukhopadhyaya’s edition of the Aśokāvadāna (on GRETIL) refers to Śāṇakavāsī, while the Nepalese manuscript of the same text has Soṇavāsī (according to Mitra, Sanskrit Buddhist Literature, pg. 10).
271 Dīpavaṁsa 4.52.
272 奢搦迦 (T24, № 1451, p. 411, b18). I cannot identify the exact form used for Śāṇavāsin in the Second Council, but it is certainly not the same. The nearest I can identify by comparison with Rockhill’s Tibetan rendering it should be 善見 (T24, № 1451, p. 413, b19), but this is rather Sudassana.
273 Rockhill, 170, 176.
274 須那拘 (T24, № 1462, p. 684, b13). In the first mention of the Vinaya masters it is spelt 蘇那拘 (T24, № 1462, p. 677, b19–20).
275 T24, № 1462, p. 678, a24.
276 Samantapāsādikā 1.235: Upālitthero sammāsambuddhassa santike uggaṇhi, dāsakatthero attano upajjhāyassa upālittherassa, soṇakatthero attano upajjhāyassa dāsakattherassa, siggavatthero attano upajjhāyassa soṇakattherassa, moggaliputtatissatthero attano upajjhāyassa siggavattherassa caṇḍavajjittherassa cāti. Sudassanavinayavibhāsā: 陀寫俱從優波離受。須提那俱從陀寫俱受。悉伽婆從須那 俱受。目揵連子帝須從悉伽婆受。又栴陀跋受。如是師師相承乃至于今 (T24, № 1462, p. 716, c26–29).
277 The story of Siggava, in response to a prophecy, intentionally visting Moggaliputtatissa’s parents’ house for alms for seven years before finding success closely echoes the story of Śāṇavāsin, in response to a prophecy, visting Upagupta’s family home for many years before finding success.
278 Dīpavaṁsa 6.25: Tato mahido pabbajito moggaliputtassa santike/Pabbājesi mahādevo majdhanto upasampade.
279 T № 1507, p.37, b16–27; see LAMOTTE, History of Indian Buddhism, 303.
281 T № 2043; see RONGXI, 122–124.
282 ROCKHILL, 167–170.
283 WYNNE, 32.
285 ROCKHILL, 194–5.
286 從迦葉至寐者柯二百年已來無異部 (T45, № 1852, p. 9, b20–21).
287 T45, № 1852, p. 9, b15–c1.