Blue Annals (deb-ther sngon-po)

by George N. Roerich | 1949 | 382,646 words | ISBN-10: 8120804716 | ISBN-13: 9788120804715

This page relates ‘division into eighteen schools (of the Doctrine of the Buddha)’ of the Blue Annals (deb-ther sngon-po)—An important historical book from the 15th century dealing with Tibetan Buddhism and details the spiritual doctrine and lineages of religious teachers in Tibet. This chapter belongs to Book 1 (The beginning of the story of the Doctrine).

Chapter 5 - The division into eighteen schools (of the Doctrine of the Buddha)

[Full title: The division into eighteen schools (sde pa bco brgyad du gyes pa’i skabs. Chandra 27; Chengdu 48-57; Roerich 25).]

The Doctrine of Salvation (Prātimokṣa) was divided into 18 schools (sde pa rnam pa). All the eighteen schools represented the Doctrine of the Buddha. According to the Sumagadhā-vadāna (ma ga dha bzang mo'i rtogs pa brjod pa, Kg. Mdo, No. 346) in the time of the Buddha Kāśyapa, his alms-giver (supporter) was king Kṛkin.

Once on his dream, the king saw ten visions: the king of elephants attempting to pass through a window, but unable to get his tail through it; a thirsty man being pursued by a well; the offering for sale of one measure (bre) of flour, and of one measure of pearls; the levelling of prices of sandal and ordinary woods; the taking away of flowers and fruit by robbers from a garden; the frightening of the prince of elephants by a young elephant; a filthy monkey rubbing liniment on another; the coronation of a monkey as a king, and the appearance of a whole piece of cloth in the hands of eighteen men, after the original piece of cloth had been divided between them, and the vision of a big crowd of people fighting and arguing between themselves.

Full of apprehension, that these visions might forebode calamities for himself, the king became frightened, and requested the Blessed One Kāśyapa to interpret (the visions).

The Blessed One said:

"These, O king, do not forebode misfortunes for yourself! In future times when men’s lives will last a hundred years, monks, in contraversion of the Doctrine of the Supreme Enlightened Buddha Śākyamuni, though abandoning their houses, will be attached to vihāras and wealth. The vision of an elephant caught by the tail, is a sign of that. A thirsty man pursued by a well signifies that monks while residing in a vihāra will not listen to the teaching of the Doctrine by others. The sale of flour and pearls signifies that in those days the hearers will teach the Doctrine with the object of obtaining subsistence. The vision of the levelling of the prices of sandal and other woods, signifies that the hearers will consider equal the Teaching of Buddha and that of heretical treatises (14b).

The taking away by robbers of flowers, etc. From a garden, signifies that in those days corrupt hearers will accomodate laymen with the property of the monastic community. The frightening of the prince of elephants by a young elephant, signifies that monks full of sin will oppress virtuous monks. The vision of a filthy monkey defiling another, signifies that immoral monks will slander virtuous monks. The coronation of a monkey as king signifies that in those days fools will be crowned as kings (here the word king probably means saṅgharāja, i.e. The head of the monastic community).

An undiminishing piece of cloth in the hands of eighteen men, after the original piece had been divided into eighteen pieces, signifies that, though the Doctrine of Buddha will be divided into eighteen schools, each school will get the opportunity of obtaining salvation. A crowd of men fighting and arguing between themselves signifies that the setting of the Doctrine of Śākyamuni will be caused by dissensions on points of the Doctrine."

In this manner (Kāśyapa) explained to the king the meaning of his (ten) visions. The nine transgressions originated in various countries after a considerable time had elapsed. The manner of the division into eighteen schools; In the time of king Aśoka the division was caused by some dissensions. Thus at first the division was into the Sthaviras (gnas brtan pa) and the Mahāsaṅghikas (dge 'dun phal chen pa).

Then gradually the, Mahāsaṅghikas were divided into eight sub schools:

  1. the Mahāsaṅghikas proper,
  2. the Ekavyavahārikas (tha snyad gcig pa),
  3. the Lokottaravādins ('jig rten las 'das par smra ba),
  4. the Bahuśrutīyas (mang du thos pa),
  5. the Prajñaptivādins (btags par smra ba),
  6. the Caityaśailas (Caityakas, mchod rten pa),
  7. the Pūrvaśailas (Śar gyi ri bo pa),
  8. and the Aparaśailas (nub kyi ri bo pa).

The Sthavira school was gradually divided into ten sub schools. The Sthaviras proper were also called Haimavatas (gangs ri pa).

The Sarvāstivādins proper were divided into ten branches:

  1. the Vibhajyavādins (rnam par phye ste smra ba), instead of whom some mention the Muruṇḍakas (mu run ta ka),
  2. the Vātsīputrīyas (gnas ma'i bu pa),
  3. the Dharmottarīyas (chos mchog pa),
  4. the Bhadrayāṇīyas (bzang po'i lam pa),
  5. the Saṃmitīyas (kun gyis bkur ba), instead of whom some mention the Āvantakas (a banta ka pa), or again some list the Kurukullakas (ku ru ku lla pa, sa sgrags ris kyi sde, Kaurukullakas),
  6. the Mahīśāsakas (mang ston pa, [1] sa srun sde),
  7. the Dharmaguptikas (chos sbas pa),
  8. the Suvarṣakas (char bzang 'bebs pa), instead of whom some list the Kāśyapiyas (‘od srungs pa),
  9. the Uttarīyas (bla ma pa)
  10. and the Saṃkrāntikas ('pho bar smra ba pa).

The above (list) is according to the first tradition. The second tradition: from the same root: the Sthaviras, the Mahāsaṅghikas and the Vibhajyavādins (15a)—they are the three basic schools (rtsa ba'i sde gsum). The Sthaviras were divided into the Sarvāstivādins and the Vātsīputrīyas. The Sarvāstivādins had also two branches: the Sarvāstivādins (proper) and the Sūtravādins (mdo sde smra ba).

The Vātsīputrīyas were divided into—

  1. the Saṃmitīyas (mang bkur ba),
  2. the Dharmottarīyas (chos mchog pa),
  3. the Bhadrayāṇīyas (bzang po'i lam pa),
  4. and the Saṇnāgarikas (grong khyer drug pa).

Thus the Sthaviras were divided into two branches (yan lag) and six sections (nying lag, "fingers").

The Mahāsaṅghikas were divided into eight branches:

  1. the Mahāsaṅghikas,
  2. the Pūrvaśailas,
  3. the Aparaśailas,
  4. the Rājagirikas (rgyal po ri pa),
  5. the Haimavatas (gangs ri pa),
  6. the Caityakas (mchod rten pa),
  7. the Śiddhārthakas (don grub pa),
  8. the Gokulikas (ba glang gnas pa).

The Vibhajyavādins were divided into the Mahīśāsakas (sa ston pa, Cf. Mhvtpt. No. 9080), the Kāśyapīyas, the Dharmaguptikas and the Tāmraśatīyas. In this manner the six branches of the Sthaviras, the eight Mahāsaṅghikas, the four branches of the Vibhajyavādins, in all 18 (schools).

Again according to a third tradition: after 137 years had elapsed since the Nirvāṇa of the Buddha, in the time of king Nanda and Mahāpadma, when Mahā-Kāśyapa and others, who had attained the highest intuitive knowledge, had entered the town of Pāṭaliputra, a sthavira called Nāgasena (klu'i sde), belonging to the followers of Māra, and one named Sthiramati (yid brten pa), both of whom were very learned, upheld the five bases (gzhi lnga) of the Vinaya advice to others (gzhan la lan gdab pa): ignorance (mi shes pa), doubt (yid gnyis, vimati), careful investigation (yongs su brtag pa, parikalpa) and self-maintenance (bdag nid gso bar byed pa).

This caused the division into two branches: the (Sthaviras and the Mahāsaṅghikas: In this manner, for sixty years the monastic community was in a state of dissension and turmoil. After two hundred years had elapsed after the Nirvāṇa of the Buddha, the Sthavira-Vātsīputrīyas held a Religious Council (bstan pa yang dag par sdud pa).

According to this third tradition, the Mahāsaṅghikas split into six branches:

  1. the Mahāsaṅghikas proper,
  2. the Ekavyavahārikas (tha snyad gcig pa),
  3. the Gokulikas (ba glang gnas pa),
  4. the Bahuśrutīyas (mang du thos pa),
  5. the Prajñaptivādins and
  6. the Caityakas.

The seven branches of the Sarvāstivādins:

  1. the Sarvāstivādins proper,
  2. the Vibhajyavādins,
  3. the Mahīśāsakas (mang ston pa),
  4. the Dharmaguptikas,
  5. the Tāmraśatīyas (gos dmar ba),
  6. the Kāśyapīyas, and
  7. the Saṃkrāntikas ('pho ba pa).

The Vātsīputrīyas had four branches:

  1. the Vātsīputrīyas proper,
  2. the Dharmottarīyas,
  3. the Bhadrayāṇīyas and
  4. the Saṃmitīyas (mang pos bkur ba).

Thus seventeen schools, and with the Haimavatas—eighteen. I believe the ācārya Bhavya (legs ldan 'byed) must have accepted this third tradition, because immediately after mentioning this third tradition in his treatise Madhyamakahṛdayavṛttitarkajvālā (dbu ma snying po'i 'grel rtog ge ‘bar ba, snar thang Tg. Mdo, vol. XIX (dza), fol. 155b-164a; Tg. Dbu ma, No. 3856), he gave an account of the different views maintained by these sects.

Among the Tibetans it is stated that the Mahāsaṅghikas considered wine-drinking as belonging to the pārājikas (or sins involving expulsion from the Order),[2] but there exists a book by the Great Paṇḍita (pang chen, i.e. Śākyaśrībhadra) which contains a Prātimokṣa-sūtra which was accepted by both schools, the Ekavyavahārikas and the Lokottaravādins, and in this book misconduct is listed among the pārājikas (this text is now preserved in the zhwa lu dgon chen in gtsang.

Verbal communication by the Rev. Dge dun chos 'phel). As to the story about the undiminishing piece of cloth of Emancipation (vimokṣa) of all the eighteen schools, (one has to point out) that the Ātmavādins (bdag tu smra ba’i sde pa) among the eighteen schools do not possess the Path of understanding the doctrine of Nairātma (bdag med rtogs pa'i lam nyid), but instead they accept the vow of Pratimokṣa, which is the initial stage on the Path of Liberation. Therefore the story about the undiminishing piece of cloth should be understood to mean the unimpaired precepts of morality.

In the Samayabhedovyūha-cakra[3] composed by the bhadanta Vasumitra (dbyig gi bshes gnyen), and quoted by the ācārya Vinītadeva (Samayabhedoparacanacakre nikāyabhedopadeśanasaṃgraha-nāma, Tg. 'dul ba, No. 4140), it is said that the Pūrvaśailas, the Aparaśailas, the Haimavatas, the Lokottaravādins, and the Prajñaptivādins were the five branches of the Mahāsaṅghikas. The Kāśyapīyas, the Mahīśāsakas, the Dharmaguptikas, the Bahuśrutīyas, the Tāmraśatīyas, and the Vibhajyavādins were called Sarvāstivādins. The Jetavanīyas (rgyal byed tshal gnas), the Abhayagirivāsins (‘jigs med gnas), the Mahāvihāravāsins (gtsug lag khang chen) were Sthaviras. The Kaurukullakas (sa sgrags ri), the Āvantakas and the Vātsīputrīyas were the three branches of the Saṃmitīyas. Eighteen in all, differing between themselves by their places of residence, their theories and teachers.

In the Bhikṣuvarśāgrapṛcchā (dge slong gi dang po'i lo dri ba, Tg. 'dul ba, No. 4133), [4] composed by the ācārya Padmasambhava and translated (into Tibetan) by Dīpaṅkaraśrījñāna and nag tsho (tshul khrims rgyal ba) it is said

"the difference between the so-called Kāśyapīyas (‘od srungs), the Mahīśāsakas (sa srungs), the Dharmaguptikas (chos srungs, and the Mūlasarvāstivādins was one of theory only. They did not have different teachers. The six branches of the Mahāsaṇghikas were the Pūrvaśailas, also the Aparaśailas, the so called Haimavatas (gangs gnas), the Vibhajyavādins, further the Prajñaptivādins and the Lokottaravādins. Scholars maintain that the five branches of the Saṃmitīyas were the Tāmraśatīyas, the Āvantakas, the Kaurukullukas, also the Bahuśrutīyas and the so called Vātsīputrīyas. The Jetavanīyas, the Abhayagirivāsins (‘jigs med ri la gnas pa) and the Mahāvihāravāsins[5] are said to have been the three branches of the Sthaviras. In this manner the Doctrine of the Lion of the Śākya became divided into eighteen schools. This surely must have happened because of some demerits of former deeds of the Teacher of the World Himself."

In the Śrāmaṇeravarśāgrapṛcchā (Tg. 'dul ba, No. 4132), translated (into Tibetan) by the paṇḍita Nārāyaṇadeva and rgyal ba'i shes rab or zhang zhung, the sa ston pas[6] 'are mentioned instead of the Mahīśāsakas (sa srungs pa),the Uttaraśailas instead of the Aparaśailas, the Madhyadeśikas (dbus pa) instead of the Haimavatas, and the sa sgrags ris instead of the Kurukullukas. As these two Varśāgrapṛcchās had one author, their meaning should be one, but, it seems to me, that (they had been translated from different originals).

If in the book entitled rgyal po Kṛki'i lung bstan pa (Ārya Svapnanirdeśa-nāma-mahāyānasūtra (?), Kg. Dkon brtsegs, No. 48) all these eighteen schools are said to have belonged to the Doctrine of the Buddha, if these schools possess different versions of the rite of Ordination (Vinaya), and if the ordination vows can be taken according to all these (different) rites, then (one must admit) that, either the Teacher Himself had taught different (ordination) rites, or, that later teachers had elaborated these different rites. If, the Teacher Himself had taught them, then the division into sects must have taken place in the Teacher’s life time, (but this is impossible).

If these rites are the work of later teachers, then how is it possible to take the vow of ordination after these rites (for the ordination can be conferred only through a rite established by Buddha Himself)? The matter is subject to debate. (The reply is), (as these) rites were not taught by the Teacher personally, one should not maintain the existence of a division (into schools) in the beginning of the Doctrine. But though later teachers had elaborated different ordination rites, they did so without contradicting the thought of the Teacher. Therefore (we have to admit) that through these rites, one can obtain the vow of ordination, and such is the opinion of scholars. Also in the Ārya-mūlasarvāstivādiśrāmaṇerakārikāvṛttiprabhāvatī (‘od ldan, Tg.'dul ba, No. 4125) it is stated: "The Doctrine of the Buddha is not mere words, but meaning".

The eighteen schools cannot be regarded as belonging to the heretical doctrines (nag po bstan pa), and according to the Ārya-mūlasarvāstivādiśrāmaṇerakārikāvṛttiprabhāvatī belong to those preaching the Four Noble Truths (chen po bstan pa, i.e. The four ārya satyāni).

In the Munimatālaṃkāra (thub pa'i dgongs pa'i rgyan, Tg. Dbu ma, No. 3903) by Abhayāka-ragupta (‘jig med 'byung gnas sbas pa) it is said:

"If now (you) do not maintain that the basic texts of these schools represent the words (of the Buddha), how can you then accept the (Vinaya) rites, such as the ordination (upasampadā) rite, and others? If there does not exist a state of monkhood, then there will be a great defect in respect of the theory. (Reply) How can one judge about the existence or non-existence of the ordained state (in these present days)? One cannot perceive it by direct sense-perception, or by inference, because there is no logical premise (in regard to the existence of the rite of ordination). But (on the other hand) one is able to accept the Vinaya rites, regardless of whether these texts represent or not the words of the Buddha, such as the rite of ordination (upasampadā), and others

For example, the Vinayadharas maintained that there have been ten kinds of ordained monks:

1. Natural monks ("by oneself", rang byung nyid), as in the case of the Buddha and of Pratyeka-Buddhas. 2. Those who had entered into the state free of defects (the so-called 'phags pa'i sa or ārya stage), as in the case of Ājāneya Kauṇḍinya, Aśvajit, Bhadrika (bzang ldan), Vāṣpa (rlangs pa) and Mahānāman (ming chen).

3. The "come hither monk" ordination, as in the case of Yaśas and others.

4. Those who had accepted (the Buddha) as one’s Teacher, as in the case of Mahākāśyapa.

5. Those who had pleased the Buddha by a (correct) answer, as in the case of Sudatta (legs byin).

6. Those who had accepted the eight chief (moral) precepts (śīlas), as in the case of Mahāprajāpatī (the eight pārājikas of Buddhist nuns).

7. By messenger, as in the case of Dharmadattā (chos sbyin ma).

8. By an assembly of five Vinayadharas for the benefit of residents of border countries (mtha' 'khob).

9. By an assembly of ten (Vinayadharas), as in the country of Madhyadeśa.

10. By reciting the three refuge formulae;, as in the case of the sixty men of the group accompanying Bhadrasena (bzang sde).[7]

Thus, by reading the words authorized (by the Buddha), one can perform the rite of request (gsol ba'i las, jñāpti-karma), for, after all, they can be accepted as the words of the Tathāgata. Therefore it has been said that in Buddhism one should base oneself on meaning, and not on (mere) words."

The Chapter on the division into the eighteen schools. (17b).

Footnotes and references:


Tāranātha’s Geschichte d. Buddhismus, p. 271.


There are four: fornication, theft, taking life and falsely laying claim to the possession of Arhatship or any of the other supernatural gifts. See R. C Childers: A Dictionary of the Pali Language, p. 333.


gzhun lugs kyi bye brag bkod pa'i ‘khor lo, snar thang Tg. mdo, vol. XC (U), fol. 175a-163b.


The quotation is found on fol. 284b-285a of vol. XC (U), mdo, of the snar thang bstan 'gyur. According to Tibetan scholars the author of the above text has been the founder of Buddhism in Tibet, according to others he was another person bearing the same name, [n the old indexes of the bstan 'gyur this text and the Śrāmaṇeravarśāgrapṛcchā are the only two texts in the Sūtra class ascribed to Padmasambhava.


These three still exist in Ceylon. Codrington: "A Short History of Ceylon." London, 1929, p 13, 22.


Mahīśāsaka. See Mhvtpt, No. 9080.


gleng 'bum by dge 'dun grub, p. 3b ff

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