Darstantika, Sautrantika and Sarvastivaldin
The Indian Historical Quarterly
Brahmanic literature contrasts quite usually
sruti to smrti. The former term includes the revealed
texts (Veda and Vedanga); while the latter the
tradition contained in the Upaveda. Another
classification, found in some late works, has been
examined by L. Feer.(1) It is on the one hand
adrstartha, which includes Veda, Vedanga,
philosophical systems, jurisprudence; and on the
other, drstartha which refers to the Upaveda, that is
to say what consituted formerly the smrti. The notion
of drsta, what is "seen" or known through experience,
has thus encroached upon that of smrti. At first
sight, it seems that the distinction between what is
founded or what is not founded upon experience has
replaced the former distinction between Tradition and
This change must probably be ascribed to a novel
theory of knowledge. The materialists used to put
perception (pratyaksa) at the source of knowledge,
and denied sruti, intuition, any value. Perception
(pratyaksa) is thus opposed to intuition (sruti):
and,in the same way. drsta to adrsta. Finally, what
we find in the classification of knowledge by
adrstartha and drstartha, is the contrast between
sruti and pratyaksa. The substitution of those two
terms for the former categories named sruti and smrti
shows the progress of philosophical speculation. It
throws light, moreover, on a part of the Buddhist
terminology and,consequently, on some problems of
religious and literary history.
In Buddhist thorght the notion of sruti is far
more importantnt than is generally believed. It
explains the frequently used term of babusruta,
rendered literally in Chinese by to-wen, "who has
1 Trente deux recits du trone, Intro., p. xxii
heard." The initial formula of the sutra : evam
maya srutam not only alludes to the promulgation of
the sacred texts by Ananda when the First Council was
held, but also indicates that those texts were
revealed and that the whole of them constitutes the
sruti.(2) And, just as sruta is opposed to drsta or
sruti to pratyaksa, the former term implied, as
compared to the latter, a knowledge of superior
quality, sruti is opposed to drsti in the Buddhist
vocabulary. It seems easier now to understand why
Pa1i ditthi "view, opinion" is so frequently used
deprecatingly with the meaning of "ill-founded or
false opinion." When the word is used in good sense,
it is necessary to insist upon the adjective samma as
in samma ditthi; this expression shows that,
formerly, ditthi must have been given a neutral and
very general sense; the interpretation "false view"
is a secondary one.
The contrast sruti/drsti allows perhaps to
explain two obscure terms which hold an important
place in the controversies among the Buddhist sects.
Masuda's work on the Vasumitra treatise(3) relates
some traditions which might induce us to consider the
Darstantika and Sautrantika sects as two
sub-divisions of the Sarvastivadin school. To my
mind, these sects owe their respective names to two
categories of texts: drstanta and sutranta. Drstanta
is formed with drsta, like sutranta with sutra. If a
sutra is what has been "heard" (sruta) it is probable
that the terms drstanta/ sutranta rest
2 It is true that, for Buddhaghosa, followed in this
respect by the European scholars (Kern, Manual of
Indian Buddhism, p. 2 quoted by de La Vallee
Poussin, Opinions, p. 35) evam maya sutam means
sammukha patiggabitam (Sumangala-vilasini, I.p.31
But this interpretation, which is a late one,
dates from a moment when one had to prove the
authenticity of the texts,tracing them back to the
Buddha through Ananda, rather than to rank them
with the Veda. In other words, the controversies
between Buddhists had altered the mentality of the
doctors: those of the earlier centuries were
anxious, above all, to resist the Brahmins, whilst
Buddhaghosa disputes with the people who recognize
the Buddha's omniscience.
3 Asia Major, 1925.
finally upon the contrast drsti / sruti. Let us
exaimine this thesis in the light of the documents.
Since H.Luders published the fragments of the
Kalpanamanditika, the attention of the learned world
has been driven towards Kumaralata, author of this
collection and the founder of the Darstantika school.
Several Japanese and European schlars have
endeavoured to gather some pieces of information
concerning this school, and more particularly those
supplied by K'ouei Ki, one of Hiuan-Tsang's most
famous disciples. The most important texts will be
found in the commented translation of the
Vijnaptimatratasiddhi by L. de La Vallee Poussin.(1)
Before I bring forth K'ouei Ki's testimony, I will
quote the learned scholar's translation, which, being
exactly literal, forms a solid basis for discussion.
K'ouei Ki, Vasumitra, II, 9b (Genealogy of the
sects): "The comment of the Siddhi, iv, i, 53 b, says
that the Sautrantika are of three kinds: 1. Mula
(ken-pen), that is to say. Kumaralata; 2. Srilata; 3.
in a vague way (wei-fan)the so-called Sautrantika.
This text means probably that there are three
kinds of Sautrantikai 1. the Mulasautrantika, that is
to say, Kumaralata's followers; 2. Srilata's disciples;
3. those who are called Sautrantika without any other
These comment of the Siddbi, alluded to in the
above quotation, is a little more explicit:
"These (the Sautrantika ) are of three kinds:
1.Mula, that is to say Kumatalata; 2. Srilata, who
composed the Sautrantika-Vibhasa, whom Sanghabhadra
calls "the Sthavira"; 3. the socalled Sautrantika.(5)
As the Mulacarya composed the Kie man louen, the
Kouang chouo p'i yu, he received the name of Darstan
tikacarya,borrowing his name from what he said."
4 Buddhica, t. I; p. 221-224: K'ouei ki sur les
5 I prefer this trsnslation to another one, given in
a dubies way by de La Vallee Poussin in a note.
This text' confirming the information given by
the preceding one' adds that Srilata' auther of the
Santrantika-Vibhasa, was also called the Sthavira and
states that the Mulacarya, that is to say Kumaralata,
was also called Darstantika-acarya. As a result Mula-
sautrantika. disciples of Kumaralata and Darstantika
are three ways of describing the same group.
That Kumaralata the famous author of a
Drstantapankti or Drstantamalya should have been
called Darstantikacarya, is not astonishing. We know
by the colophons of the Kalpanamanditika that this
collection was a Drstantapankti and that its author
was precisely Kumaralata. L. de La Vallee
Poussin(p.223) points out, after Schiefner that:
''There is a Drstantamalya in the Tandjur. Referring
to the Tibetan text, Sylvain Levi established without
difficulty that the Tandjur Drstantamalya is a
fragment of the Kalpanamanditika."(6) Kouei Ki's Kie
man louen or Yu man louen is probably nothing
K'ouei Ki(Vasumitra II, 9 b) the tells us besides
that Kumaralata, Darstantikacarya, appeared during
the first century after the disappearance of the
Buddha, and that at the time there was no Sautrantika
yet. How is it possible to reconile this assertion
with another one given by the same text, accordig to
which Kumaralata would be the Sautrantika-mulacarya?
It seems that the Sautrantika separated from the
Darstantika at a late date; then the latter could
have been looked upon as the Mulasautrantika and
Kumaralata, their founder, was really the
Sautrantika-mulacarya because the Darstantika bore in
them the future Sautrantika.
On the whole, whether it be a question of the
properly socalled Sautrantika, or of Srilata's
disciples, both groups can be con-
6 JA., 1929, I1, p. 270 ff.
7 For the different reading Kie man l uen, Yu man
louen, cf. La Vallee Poussin, ibid., p. 221--222.
About the equivalence Yu man louen--Drstantapankti,
cf. Sylvain Levi, JA., 1927, II, p. 100.
sidered as two branches sprung out of the
original Darstantika or Mulasau trantika.
Where does this name Darstantika come from? Kouei
Ki admits that Kumaralata was called Darstantikacarya
because of the drstanta that he had composed. In
fact, darstantika derives normally from drstanta.
This term is the synonym of avadana, as the Chinese
translators render both the one and the other by
p'i-yu (8) "example." In literature, the drstanta is
then opposed to the sutra or sutranta, to which it is
a kind of complement, or illustration."
It seems strange that two names so different,
Sautrantika and Darstantika should have served to
describe Kumaralata's followers. If drstanta is
opposed to sutranta, one does not see at first how
names derived from these two terms could have meant
the same school. This difficulty can be solved if one
admits that the two names were used during different
periods and in different places.
If drstanta and sutranta mean texts of unequal
value, It is scarcely probable that Kumaralata's
disciples should have called themselves darstantika,
because in so doing they would have recognized
implicitly the superiority of the sautrantika. The
word darstantika could only have been applied to them
by their opponents. In the same way, the deprecative
expression Hinayana was probably used only in the
Mahayana school. We can therelore admit that at the
time where Kumaralata's disciples reserved for
themselves the title of Mulasautrantika, they were
called Darstantika by their opponents.
Here is how thing may be explained. After
Kumaralata composed the collections of drstanta, he
was given the name of Darstantika-acarya and his
disciples were called Darstantika. Later on, the
latter name being regarded unfavourable, Kumaralata's
disciples reacted and took the title of Sautrantika.
In course of time, Kumara-
8 Cf. Mahavyutp. 62.7; 139.30; 200, 6.
9 Cf. Rocznik Orjentalistyczny. V¢»¡F, p. I4 ff.
lata's school having been divided into several
group, the practice was made of describing as
Mulasautrantika those who claimed to follow
Kumaralata, the other factions being called by the
name of Srilata, or described as Sautrantika without
any more precision.
The passage from the Ta tobe tou louen, according
to which the Vinaya of Mathura and that of Kasmir
differ considerably should probably be ascribed to
the same period. At Mathura, the Vinaya is composd of
80 chapters. There is besides a second part: the
Avadana and Jataka in 80 chapters. At Kasmir we must
distinguish between a text in 10 chapters and a
vibhasa eight times bigger; Avadana and Jataka are
excluded from this Vinaya.(10)
The Vinaya of Mathura and that of Kasmir mark
undoubtedly two successive stages in the evolution.
The Buddhist tales are literary compositions, the
authorship of which could not be ascribed to the
Buddha. Theoretically these productions must
therefore have been excluded from the Canon, and this
course must have been followed at first. Later on,
this strictness relaxed and the tales were included
in the one or the other basket. The Kasmir school is
faithful to the old exclusiveness, whereas the
Mathura school is inspired by the novel tolerance.
Darstantika, Sautrantika, Mathura or Kasmir
schools, all these names refer, in the whole or in
parts, to the great North-Western school, the texts
of which were written down in Sanskrit and which was
called Sarvastivadin. The formula sarvamasti proves a
liking for metaphysical subtlety that is foreign to
primitive Buddhism. Likewise the refinement in the
way of thinking and in the style of Asvaghosa's
writing is very far from the origins. However, we
must not forget that some works, ascribed at a late
date to Asvaghosa, may have Leen composed long before
10 Cf.'Fables in the Vinaya-pitaka of the
Sarvastivadin School,' IHQ,V, march, 1929, p. 3 ff.
Since Ed. Huber translated into French the
Chinese version of the Sutralamkara ascribed to
Asvaghosa, the original was discovered in Central
Asia by the German mission of Turfan, and published
by M. H. Luders under the title of: Brucbstucke der
kalpanamanditika des Kumaralata. The following
colophon can be reconstructecd in it:
aryakaumaralatayam kalpanamanditika [yam nama
drstanta pamktyam.(11) Nothwithstanding this
discovery, Asvaghosa's defenders have not deserted
their own thesis, Sylvain Levi has supposed that
Asvaghosa was the author of the primitive work, which
would have been remodelled later on by Kumaralata,
and this new edition of the Sutralamkara would have
been called Drstantamala (or pinkti).(12)
When I took up again in 1930 the study of this
question, I showed that Kumaralata was rapidly
forgotten, whereas Asvaghosa's fame kept on growing.
It is incredible therefore that one of Asvaghosa's
works may have been ascribed at a late date to
Kumaralata. As indicated by the colophon of the
original published by Luders, Kumaralata is the
author of the collection of drstanta (drstantapankti)
called Kalpanamanditika. Later on, this work,
remodelled, was given the name of Sutralamkara and
was ascribed under a new shape to the famous
In I932, I insisted upon the fact that, against
the opinion stated above, the Chinese title of the
Sutralamkara: Ta tobouang king louen stands for an
original: Maha-sutralamkara-sastra. This shows that
at the time where the former drstantapankti was given
the title of Sutralamkara, this text was considered
as a sastra,
11 The part in brackets is blotted out on the
manuscript and, according to the editor, 6 aksaras
would be missing (Bruchstucke, p. 19). To fill up
this void, H. Luders has propsed yam dsrtanta,
which is too short. I suggest yam name drstanta,
exactly 6 aksaras.
12 Journal Asiatique, Oct.-Dee. 1929, pp. 279-280.
13 Asvnghosa et la Kalpanamanditika, Bulletin of the
section of Letters of the Royal Academy of
Belgium, sitting of Nov. 3, 1930,pp. 425-434.
which means that it was classified with the
treatises of Abhidharrma.(14)
Thus it appears that the Buddhist texts were
submitted to frequent alterations. Neither the
contents, the title nor the classification of the
works were fixed. The literature was subject to
perpetual transformations,like the composition of the
canons, the grouping of the collections and the
nomendature of the sects.
The testimonies that we have just gathered have
permitted us to place in three successive periods the
activity of three doctors belonging to neighbouring
groups: Kumaralata, author of a Drstanta-pankti,
Srilata, Srilata, auther of a Sautrantika-vibhasa,
Asvaghosa, to whom the Sutralamkara is ascribed. The
mere title of these works indicates that the first
doctor belonged to the Darstantika school, the second
to the Sautrantika school; the third one is attached
by tradition to the North-West of India and to the
Sarvastivadin school. We may then suppose that
Darstantika, Sautrantika, Sarvastivadin are three
successive names which correspond to the three phases
in the development of the great North-Western school.
From now on it seems presumable that the
Mulasarvastivadin are the Mulasautrantika's
successors, so they called themselves because they
were connected with the teaching of the Mulacarya
To the three stages that we have just noted
correspond different doctrinal attitudes which are
marked by some changes in the way the Scriptures are
classified and the schools and texts are called.(15)
Drstanta, avadana and sutralamkara are three
equivalent terms. It seems that the drstanta was
excluded at first from the Canon and this was
reasonable: the dharma, being the word of the Buddha,
could not include tales which were the works of a
14 'Sautrantika et Darstantika, Roeznik Orjentalistyezny
,V III, p. 20.
15 Of course the appearance of a new term did not
cause the former one to disappear everwhere, on
the contrary it was liable to survive for a long
time still in some spheres.
doctor. Later on, the basket of the Vinaya having
separated from the Dharma, some schools, like that of
Mathura, inserted in it narrative texts which were
called avadana or jataka. The authority recognized to
the sutra at the time explains the fact that several
groups claim the title of Sautrantika. Finally,
during a third period, the activity of the
theologians, of the prose-writers and of the poets is
shown by the multiplication of the texts of every
kind. One observes then the development of the
Abhidharma. Theliking for metaphysical discussion
brings into favour the name of Sarvastivadin; the use
of poetical ornaments in order to enhance the style.
of the tales cause the latter to be described as the
ornament (alamkara) of the sutra, and these new texts
are considered as sastra, that is to say, classified
by the side of the Abhidharmapitaka treatises.
On the whole, the evolution marked by the names
Darstantika, Sautrantika, Sarvastivadin is parallel
with the movement that ends in the codification of
the Scriptures. At first, the dharma was an
undistinguished mass, Later on, the two baskets of
the Sutra and of the Vinaya separated. Finally, a
third basket fomed which is the Abhidharma-pitaka.