The Pāli canon: heretical heritage?

I stumbled upon this:

Mahayana (of the Chinese lineage) preserves Sutras, Vinayas, Sastras and Abhidharmas from all the Early Eighteen Schools. All the scriptures are served as reference instead of presiding over any particular school.

Theravada inherits Suttas and works from the Vibhajyavāda (meant the separatist, a sect active esp. around 300CE teaching different/ newly interpreted doctrines that contradictory to the Early Eighteen Schools). In addition, Theravada its original name was Tambapaṇṇiya (meant Ceylon School), its scriptures and works are from the Mahāvihāravāsins (monks of a monastery in Sri Lanka) only:

The Mahavihara Theravādins of Sri Lanka are descendants of the Sthavira Vibhajyavādins in South India who used the Pali language… — Vibhajyavāda, Wikipedia

Wikipedia says:

The Mahavihara Theravādins of Sri Lanka are descendants of the Sthavira Vibhajyavādins in South India who used the Pali language, differing somewhat from the northern Sthavira schools.[18] The Theravādins hold that Vibhajyavāda was the favored doctrine during a Buddhist council that took place in Pataliputra under Ashoka. As Gethin notes, the sources are rather confused on this matter however.[20]

The Sammatīyas (aka Pudgalavadins ) also mention the Vibhajyavādins.[16] According to the Sammatīya sect, the Vibhajyavādins developed from the Sarvāstivāda school.[16]

The Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra describes the Vibhajyavādins as being the type of heretics who “make objections, who uphold harmful doctrines and attack those who follow the authentic Dharma”.[21][22]

Is this claim true? Does the Pāli canon descend from “heretics”? If so, heretics according to whom, why?

:thinking: :pray:

P.S : and is her message accurate, more generally?

Some of it is sort of true. In order to really spin something well, one has to use pieces of the truth.

Non-Sarvāstivādins have a similarly low opinion of Sarvāstivādins. It’s just old sectarianism.

Likely each school mutually considered the others heretical in at least some way. The Sautrāntikas were heretics because of their rejection of X or Y Abhidharma. The Sarvāstivādins were heretics because of their belief concerning the three times. I’m sure there are all sorts of things other schools were considered heretical for.


from all the Early Eighteen Schools.

This is false, it has texts from various schools, mainly Dharmaguptakas, Sarvastivadins and Mahasamghikas, but not all 18.

Theravada inherits Suttas and works from the Vibhajyavāda ( meant the separatist, a sect active esp. around 300CE teaching different/ newly interpreted doctrines that contradictory to the Early Eighteen Schools )

This is false, the Vibhajyavāda doctrines were not all that different from that of the other early schools at all.

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And not to speak of this egregiously distorted reading of “Vibhajjavada”. In fact it means the “doctrine of analysis or distinctions”, and is a term the Buddha applied to himself.

It has been observed that many of the names of Buddhist schools are in fact things that any Buddhist could self-apply:

  • Theravada, i.e. the teaching of the Elders, i.e. what has been handed down in the lineage.
  • Mahasanghika, i.e. the teaching of the majority community.
  • Mahayana, i.e. the great vehicle. No-one thinks their own vehicle is not great!
  • Dharmaguptaka, i.e. Guardians of the Dharma (in fact probably followers of the monk named Dharmagupta).
  • Vibhajjavada, i.e. analysts, those who do not take everything on face value but make inquiries and distinctions.

Others, like Sarvastivada or Puggalavada, refer to characteristic doctrines of the schools.


She wonders whether the sun is hollow, and believes that the moon regulates menstruation. Her ideas on Buddhism are no better grounded. This is just dogmatism masquerading as scholarship, ignore it.


The only thing I am noticing and other people is that it seems that Sarvāstivādins is the closest thing we can get to Sthavira. All others school is a evolution of the one before. For example by read Digha Agama one will notice that it was before last sect . Because in Digha Agama there is the writing that god Brahmā convinces the Buddhas. But in Pali version already they started to go back to the roots of Buddhism. There is writings that is the opposite of sect that before it. But when you see Sarvāstivādins for example already is talked about evil supreme god. And in Mahavastu Great Brahmā says to Siddharta Gotama you will surely go forth. So here my conclusion is all the sects that have writings about Brahmā was just a Brahmin/Buddhist sect which normal if Buddha preached to them also. Only reason maybe Theravada kept the story of Brahmā request to the Bodhisattva is maybe because it became a popular story. It couldn’t have been erased from history.

So my point is about the schools as you can see is very complicated. We Brahmin/Buddhist and Strictly Buddhist. Which in India there was more that accepted the traditional interpretation. Even now who is more faithful Buddhist or unfaithful worldy people.

So the Majority that the Chinese recorded was because it was the one with traditional accepted common to Brahmins school. Makes it more easy to understand that the other side is probably the one true Sangha that got rejected by the Indian kings that wanted the Brahmins to be the highest and they came in Sangha and took over and evidence is in their text.

In the story of Ghaṭīkāra in Mahavastu his friend who was the Bodhisattva then was said to be Brahman of good birth. While in Pali version it just says he was a Brahmin.

There you have a complicated thing in history of Buddhism to know exactly who is who. But some clue

Yes, it was complex. The even more problematic thing is that most of the Indian Buddhist canons are lost. We only have a little of this one (say, Sarvastivada) and a little of that one (say, Dharmaguptaka). So, we have to bear in mind that there’s an evolutionary history that’s gone. We don’t really know what exactly happened, just a decent guess from what remains.


It’s true that much is lost, but we have more than a “little” of the Sarvastivadins. Leaving aside the debated points over the exact affiliation, we more-or-less have:

  • Dirgha Agama (partial Sanskrit, most unpublished)
  • Madhyama Agama (Chinese)
  • Samyukta Agama (Chinese)
  • Substantial sutra quotes in Tibetan
  • Dhammapada and some other minor texts
  • Vinaya
  • All seven Abhidharma canonical texts
  • Quite a few post-canonical texts

It’s not quite complete, but all up we have the majority of the canonical texts.


That’s true! I wasn’t thinking of the other two pitakas.

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The thing is we don’t have all 4 agamas of sect to compare. Meaning complete Agama we have belonged to one School. It’s weird.But what I have noticed so far is that in the Agamas I compared some suttas and the detail and point of sutta is always more understandable the closer you get to the earlier schools. For example Sarvastivada has in kalama sutta what seems to be a more correct way Buddha taught. More complete sentences. And in Digha of Dharmaguptaka the Brahmā net keeps the correct point of the sutta and that was to show the different views all cause becaused by Brahmā world. Net meaning that the different views get you stuck in some attachment to that realm. By comparing one understand what happened a little in history. My observation is that Lokottaravada Mahavastu has been written exactly when Brahmins took over of the religion. And what I feel sad is maybe all schools had to by force change Their suttas to apply many Brahmin religious themes. But good thing they didn’t abolished the main teachings. But in Sarvastivada Agama talks already about Jains by their wrongs views. People might say made by evil supreme god. Dharmaguptaka has the same as our Brahmajala sutta saying the Great Brahmā only think he is the creator but it’s only Lokottaravada which feels it’s just including Great Brahmā to kind of pushing Buddha verbally to go forth. But at the end of this Dharma Is what matters, and some suttas while reading from agamas you might understand a little bit more. But there is not much difference in Buddha’s main teaching. I think Theravada kept it simple about the teaching which in the beginning of Buddhism was more detailed.