Mūlasarvāstivāda

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 Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda Monks
Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda Monks

1. Mūlasarvāstivāda

The Mūlasarvāstivāda (Sanskrit: मूलसर्वास्तिवाद;) 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 continuity of the Mūlasarvāstivāda monastic order remains in Tibetan Buddhism, although until recently, only Mūlasarvāstivāda Bhikṣus (monks) existed: the Bhikṣuṇī order had never been introduced.

2. In India

The relationship of the Mūlasarvāstivāda to the Sarvāstivāda School is a matter of dispute; modern scholars lean towards classifying them as independent.

Yijing (I-ching, 635–713 CE) claimed that they derived their name from being an offshoot of Sarvāstivāda,

but Butön Rinchen Drub (1290–1364) stated that the name was homage to Sarvāstivāda as the "root" (mūla) of all Buddhist schools.

A number of theories have been posited by academics as to how the two are related, which Bhante Sujato summaries as follows:

The uncertainty around this school has led to a number of hypotheses:

1) One theory holds that the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is the disciplinary code of an early Buddhist community based in Mathura,

which was quite independent in its establishment as a monastic community from the Sarvāstivādins of Kashmir (although of course this does not mean that they were different in terms of doctrine).

2) Other theory asserts that the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya was a late Kaśmīra compilation made to complete the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya.

3) Others suggests that the Mūlasarvāstivāda were a later development of the Sarvāstivāda, whose main innovations were literary, the compilation of the large Vinaya

and the Saddharma-smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra, which kept the early doctrines but brought the style up to date with contemporary literary developments.

4) Some consider that Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda are really the same.

5) Meanwhile, there is also a theory that the Sautrāntikas, a branch or tendency within the Sarvāstivāda group of schools, emerged in Gandhāra and Bactria around 200 CE:

Although they were the earlier group, they temporarily lost ground to the Kaśmīra Vaibhāṣika School due to the political influence of Kaniṣka.

In later years the Sautrāntikas became known as Mūlasarvāstivāda and regained the ascendancy.

Still, modern scholars believe the 1st version could be the most likely.

It is believed the Mūlasarvāstivāda developed during the 2nd century CE and went into decline in India by the 7th century.

3. In Central Asia

The Mūlasarvāstivāda were prevalent at times throughout Central Asia due to missionary activities performed in the region.

A number of scholars identify 3 distinct major phases of missionary activities seen in the history of Buddhism in Central Asia, which are associated with the following sects chronologically:

  1. Dharmaguptaka
  2. Sarvāstivāda
  3. Mūlasarvāstivāda

4. In Śrīvijaya

In the 7th century Yijing writes that the Mūlasarvāstivāda were prominent throughout the kingdom of Śrīvijaya (modern day Indonesia):

Yijing stayed in Śrīvijaya for 6-7 years, during which time he studied Sanskrit and translated Sanskrit texts into Chinese.

Yijing states that the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya was almost universally adopted in this area.

He writes that the subjects studied, as well as the rules and ceremonies, were essentially the same in this region as they were in India.

Yijing described these islands as generally "Hīnayāna" in orientation,

but writes that the Melayu Kingdom included Mahāyāna teachings such as Asaṅga's Yogācārabhūmi Śāstra.

5. Vinaya lineage

The Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is one of 3 surviving Vinaya lineages, along with the Dharmaguptaka and Theravāda.

The Tibetan Emperor Rapalchen (c. 802-838) restricted Buddhist ordination to the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya.

As Mongolian Buddhism was introduced from Tibet, Mongolian ordination follows this rule as well.

The Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is extant in Tibetan (9th century translation) and Chinese (8th century translation), and to some extent in the original Sanskrit.