Did other Early Buddhist Schools besides Theravada/Vibhajyavada also developed commentaries?


According to this quote by Kenneth Roy Norman that I found on the Atthakata page in Wikipedia:

There is no direct evidence that any commentarial material was in fact recited at the first council, but there is clear evidence that some parts of the commentaries are very old, perhaps even going back to the time of the Buddha, because they afford parallels with texts which are regarded as canonical by other sects, and must therefore pre-date the schisms between the sects. As has already been noted, some canonical texts include commentarial passages, while the existence of the Old Commentary in the Vinaya-pitaka and the canonical status of the Niddesa prove that some sort of exegesis was felt to be needed at a very early stage of Buddhism.

If this is true then which material from the Theravada/Vibhajyavada commentaries is shared with which parallels from other sects? (I assume these are EBTs)
From this is it possible to know if these sects also developed their own commentaries on the Nikayas/Vinaya? And if so then in what way? In terms of language? composition? content?

With Metta.

I don’t know if this has been studied closely. But it might start with looking at the canonical Vinayas and Abhidhamma, which contain an old strata of commentary.

I doubt if we can ever know the true extent of this. But it does seem as if the Theravadin commentaries, where (in principle) every significant word in every sutta is commented on, are unique.

In texts such as Asanga’s Sravakabhumi we find extensive commentary on various sutta passages, but these are more like the Visuddhimagga, where doctrinally significant passages are selected and explained.


Extant vinaya commentary preserved in Chinese.

I could find the original if you need it.

There is more than this available if you look for it, these are some main ones.


From http://dzongsarinstitute.org.in/en/yearly-lessons/

An example syllabus in Tibetan vinaya commentary

Root Vinaya Sutra

The Rays of Sun, Commentary on Vinaya

Tsonawa Sherab Gyaltsen
Hundred Thousand Anecdotes on the Origin of Vinaya

Gyalwa Gedun Drupa
Reference texts
Short Commentary on Root Vinaya Sutra

Destroyer, the Commentary on Vinaya Sutra

One Hundred Formal Procedures

Extensive Commentary on the Compendium of Vinaya

The Essence of the Ocean of Vinaya

Gorampa Sonam Sengye
Moon Chariot Illuminating the Meaning on Difficult Points of One Hundred Formal Procedures

Shakya Chogden
General Meaning of Vinaya

Khenchen Ngawang Chodra
Treasure Trove of Scriptures and Reasons on Vinaya

Jamyang Kunga Choezang
General Presentation of Vinaya

Buton Richen Drup
Analysis on Vinaya Sutra, Illuminating the Essence of the Ocean of Vinaya

Buton Rinchen Drup
Narrative Background of the Inception of Discipline for Bhikshu and Bhikshuni

Buton Rinchen Drup
Luminous Vision on the Elegant Explanation of the General Meaning of Root Vinaya Sutra

Kongton Wangchuk Palzang
General Meaning of Vinaya

Jetsuen Chokyi Gyaltsen
Hoverer of the Sky, Discipline for Novice and Ordained Monks

Jetsuen Chokyi Gyaltsen
About Vinaya

Minling Lotsawa Dharmashri

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There are Taisho categories in CBETA which is something called “Agama Sutras Explanation or Commentary” in T 1505-08 & T 1693-94:


But since I can’t read Chinese, I don’t know whether these was written by Chinese Buddhist commentators or translated from India sources into Chinese. Perhaps @cdpatton can help :grin:


Contents are as follows:

Please forgive rough notes, this isn’t meant to be a polished translation.


Sì’ā hán mù chāo jiě: Vasubhadra/Kumarabuddhi —> excerpted explanation of the four agamas

Gautama Sanghadeva’s Tridharmika sastra

Fēnbié gōngdé lùn: author name missing —> analysis of merit

Ā hán kǒu jiě shí’èr yīnyuán jīng : Yan Fodiao —> oral explanation on the twelve links of dependent origination in the agamas


Two by An Shigao
Rén běn yù shēng jīng xù: An Shigao
An Analysis of Dependent Origination

Yīn chí rù jīng zhù: An Shigao.
An Analysis of the Khandhas, Dhatus and Ayatanas
(Can be compared with the Suttattha-samuccaya-bhūmi of the Petakopadesa.)


In terms of Agamas, they appear unique. However, we know that people were writing incredibly detailed commentaries on Mahayana Sutras in Central Asia from Kumarajiva’s Dazhidulun. The first third of the Dazhidulun, which would be over a million words in English, is on just the first Chapter of the Pancavimsati Prajnaparamita Sutra. The remaining two thirds of it is said to have been condensed by Kumarajiva for brevity’s sake (!). There was a vibrant commentarial tradition on Mahayana sutras in general, both by Indian authors and Chinese exegetes. We just don’t have any Agama commentaries, I think, because nobody much cared about them in China or Tibet. They were happy enough with the voluminous Abhidharma texts that were the basis of Mahayana thought.


The genres of material to which Norman’s observation principally applies are, firstly, the more expansive versions of certain of the more celebrated sutta narratives (e.g. the pre-conversion life of Angulimāla), and secondly, the niruktiḥ or paronomastic ersatz etymologies of key Buddhist terms (e.g., bhagavant, arahant, dharma).


I think abhidhamma is the result of that the lingual expressions of that time in 500 BC was very limited. And people afterward tried to translate the suttas to their own language for people to better understand the message.

This was my impression, too. People were generally interested in Mahayana and Abhidharma.

I hadn’t previously been aware that there was a version of a Petakopadesa chapter in Chinese.

Wikipedia is informative on where this text was circulating.

Re: OP
I think it’s more a case of that individual texts sometimes circulated across geographical boundaries, rather than that there is a shared body of ur-commentary.

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