2. Sources | Vaibhashika


2. Sources

Canonical texts

The main source of this tradition is was the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma Piṭaka.

The texts of the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma Piṭaka are:

1)  Saṅgīti-paryāya ('Discourses on Gathering Together'), essentially a commentary on the Saṅgīti-sutra (Dīgha nikāya no. 33).

2) Dharma-skandha ('Aggregation of Dharmas'), a list of key doctrinal topics.

3) Prajñāpti Śāstra ('Treatise on Designations'), a list of doctrinal topics followed by question and answer sections.

4) Dhātu-kāya ('Collection of Elements'), similar to the Dhātu-kathā, though it uses a different doctrinal list of dharmas.

5) Vijñānakāya ('Collection of Consciousness'), attributed to master Devasarman. It is here that the existence of all dharmas through past, present and future, is first found.

6) Prakaraṇa-pāda ('Exposition')

Together, these comprise the 6 Treatises (ṣaḍ-pāda-śāstra).

The 7th text is the Jñāna-prasthāna ('Foundation of Knowledge'), also known as Aṣṭa-skandha or Aṣṭa-grantha, said to be composed by Kātyāyanīputra:

Yaśomitra is said to have likened this text to the body of the above 6 treatises, referring to them as its legs (pādas).

Exegetical texts

The Jñāna-prasthāna became the basis for Sarvāstivāda exegetical works called Vibhāṣa, which were composed in a time of intense sectarian debate among the Sarvāstivādins in Kashmir.

These compendia not only contain sūtra references and reasoned arguments but also contain new doctrinal categories and positions.

The most influential of these was the Abhidharma Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra ("Great Commentary"),

a massive work which became the central text of the Vaibhāṣika tradition who became the Kaśmīra Sarvāstivāda Orthodoxy under the patronage of the Kushan Empire.

There are also 2 other extant Vibhāṣa compendia, though there is evidence for the existence of many more of these works which are now lost.

The Vibhāṣa Śāstra of Sitapani and the Abhidharma Vibhāṣa Śāstra translated by Buddhavarman c. 437 and 439 CE are the other extant Vibhāṣa works.

Though some scholars claim the Mahāvibhāṣa dates to the reign of Kaniṣka during the 1st century CE, this dating is uncertain. However, we at least know it was translated into Chinese by the late 3rd or early 4th century CE.


In addition to the canonical Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, a variety of expository texts or treatises were written to serve as overviews and introductions to the Abhidharma.

The best known belonging to the Sarvāstivāda tradition are:

1) Abhidharma-hṛdaya-śāstra (The Heart of Abhidharma), by the Tocharian Dharmaśreṣṭhin, circa 1st. century B.C., Bactria. It is the oldest example of a systematized Sarvāstivāda treatise.

2) Abhidharma-Amṛta-Rāsa (The Taste of the Deathless) by the Tocharian Ghoṣaka, 2nd century AD, based on the above work.

3) Abhidharma-hṛdaya-śāstra (The Heart of Abhidharma) by Upaśānta, also based on Dharmaśreṣṭhin’s hṛdaya-śāstra.

4) Saṁyuktābhidharma-hṛdaya by Dharmatrāta, also based on Dharmaśreṣṭhin’s hṛdaya-śāstra.

5) Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya (Treasury of Higher Knowledge) by Vasubandhu (4th or 5th century) – a highly influential series of verses and accompanying commentary by Vasubandhu:

It often critiques Vaibhāṣika views from a Sautrāntika perspective.

This is the main text used to study Abhidharma in Tibet and East Asia. It remains influential in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism.

6) Abhidharmakośopāyikā-ṭīkā, a commentary on the Kośa by Śamathadeva

7) Nyāyānusāra (Conformance to Correct Principle) by Saṁghabhadra, an attempt to criticize Vasubandhu and defend orthodox Vaibhāṣika views.

8) Abhidharma-samaya-pradīpikā, a compendium of the above by Saṁghabhadra.

9) Abhidharma-vatara ("Descent into the Abhidharma"), an introductory treatise by master Skandhila (5th century).

10) Abhidharma-dīpa and its auto-commentary, the Vibhāṣa-prabhā-vṛtti, a post-Saṁghabhadra Vaibhāṣika treatise which follows closely the Abhidharmakośa verses and attempts to defend Vaibhāṣika orthodoxy.

The most mature and refined form of Vaibhāṣika philosophy can be seen in the work of master Saṁghabhadra (ca 5th century CE), "undoubtedly one of the most brilliant Abhidharma masters in India":

His 2 main works, the Nyāyānusāra and the Abhidharma-samaya-pradīpikā, are very important sources for late Vaibhāṣika thought.

His work was referenced and cited by various important figures, such as Xuanzang and Sthiramati.