Tibetan mulasarvastivada and other Tibetan EBTs

Hello! So I have been keeping an eye out on the Tibetan canon translation project and noticed that they have one Vinaya “chapter?” translated (their term). I am wondering, since they use Creative Commons instead of copyright, if their translations—as they come up—couldn’t be added here? Perhaps someone can ask them? It would be nice to have the parallels of the three living vinayas translated all in one place.

And on that note, I could not figure out where that chapter fits in with the parallels since the their breakdown makes no sense with the breakdowns listed here (since I am by far no expert to figure that out).

Also, many Mahāyāna Buddhists problematically refer to all EBTs as Theravada in attempt to be politically correct and it irks me since it is just as problematic to conflate them all and attribute it the only living heir of the EBTs, if you end up communicating with them to get permission to include their Vinaya translations, perhaps you can kindly tell them to change the description on their future volume on Tibetan EBT texts
(that hopefully can also be added here down the road).

It seems that Toh 1 which comes in 17 parts (Toh 1-1 — Toh 1-17) is “parallel” to the Pali Khandhakas.
Toh 2 is the bhikkhu patimokkha
Toh 3 is the bhikkhu vibhanga (explanation of the patimokkha)
Toh 4 is the bhikkhuni patimokkha
Toh 5 is the bhikkhuni vibhanga
Toh 6 could be a “parallel” to the Khuddakavatthukkhandhaka (chapter 15 in the link above)
Toh 7 could be something specific to the Mulasarvastivadins. Maybe someone knows what this is.


Thanks for the breakdown!

They not only could, but should!

We will wait a little time before going ahead with this, though. The reason is that the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya, of which this is a portion, is extremely complex. Not only is the text itself long and complex, but there are three versions: a full version in Tibetan, a majority in Chinese, and substantial portions in Sanskrit. And these all have complex variations.

For this reason, a few years ago, when I prepared the Vinaya texts for SC, I balked at the Mulasarvastivada. So currently it is the only Vinaya for which we do not have the Chinese text. We do have the Sanskrit portions, but again, no Tibetan.

Work on reconciling these versions, clarifying the structure, and detailing the (very many) parallels is being undertaken by a Japanese scholar named Fumi Yao. I haven’t kept up with her work these past few years, but the hope is that when she finishes we can rely on her work to build up a proper representation of the texts and parallels.

Meanwhile, 84000 is doing a fine job and we can read it there.

Yes, this is true, and the problem is not limited to Mahayana: most Theravadins have no idea that “Theravada” does not equal “early Buddhism”.

However, in this case it may be justified. There were a number of suttas taken to Tibet by a Sri Lankan monk around the 13th or 14th century and translated from Pali to Tibetan. Perhaps that is what these texts are, and they would therefore be “Theravada” in the sense of “Pali texts stemming from the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura”.


I have heard a few times that a King/Emperor/Dalai Lama of Tibet in the medieval era issued a order that the Pali Canon never be translated into Tibetan (presumably meaning in its entirety). Does anyone know if that is actually true? I want to say someone mentioned that Atisa was the one who said this but again I am not sure.

I have never heard this, and it sounds unlikely. The Tibetans were enthusiastic about including everything. The teachings in the Pali texts are no different from those already found in plenty of texts translated in Tibetan.


Yeah, it doesn’t seem likely. Next time I hear it though I will be asking for specific references. My guess is it is a sectarian jab that may have no basis or little basis or a rumor a sectarian teacher started. It also may be a reductionist argument that because the entire Pali Canon has not been comprehensively translated into Tibetan, somehow, their practice is “misguided”. A odd argument considering much of the Pali Canon was only recently available in English!

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Ven Dhammanando said something about this on DhammaWheel. I’ll try to dig it up.

Edit: it’s here Musings on Tantra and Mayahana (from: Tantric Theravada?) - Dhamma Wheel

I’ll ask about it on DharmaWheel.

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Okay, well it seems to be a recollection of something that was said one time on an old forum. I’ll take it with a grain of salt.

What we do know is that substantial amounts of Agama texts were translated into Tibetan, either as individual sutras, or as parts of compilations such as the Upayika or the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. Nonetheless, this still falls well short of even a single āgama collection. There are some statements in some Mahayana texts that criticize study of the early suttas; but there is also abundant evidence that the Indian Mahayana masters were well-versed in the early suttas.

It is quite possible that Atisa said—or was believed to have said—something critical about translating or studying early texts. But his most famous contribution was establishing the foundations for the lamrim. And the lamrim sets out three stages of practice, the first two of which fall well within the scope of early Buddhism.


I asked Malcolm over at DharmaWheel and he said it was a misremembering. Apparently it was King Ralpacan (also spelled Ralpachen) who made a ruling to the effect of limiting the amount of so-called hīnayāna scriptures translated into Tibetan. I am still trying to find more information about this.

So far all I can personally confirm from research is that King Ralpacan instituted largescale editing of Tibetan Buddhavacana (with the exception of Tantra texts) to bring it into like with (for the time) modern translation standards. This included adding dedicatory prologues to all extant Tibetan Buddhavacana: a dedication to sarvabuddhabodhisattvāḥ for sūtrāṇi, a dedication to Lokavidū for vinayāḥ, and a dedication to Mañjuśrī for abhidharma. I am trying to figure out the extent of the rest of his reforms and policies. One of them seems to be decrees that only Sanskrit be translated into Tibetan. I am wondering if Prākrit texts were counted as not being sufficiently Sanskritic for King Ralpacan’s reforms? Or maybe this was done to avoid Chinese texts? More context is needed. I will post the best resources I found shortly.


Oh I never heard of this. Then again it is said that the tong len meditation lineage was found in Sri Lanka and brought to Tibet. So it shouldn’t surprise me that there was contact that far away! I wonder if it is from the same period? Was Mahāyāna present in Sri Lanka around that time?

Or for that matter, if they would have included Pali? It’s a fine line between the definitions of “dialect” and “language.” And the divisions between these two have never been clearcut. As one saying goes in every linguistics 101 class: “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”

Thank you for helping me locate where I heard this Coemgenu. I apologize if I misrepresented what anyone said.

Mahayana and Vajrayana were absolutely present in Sri Lanka, especially at Abhayagiri which was a major center for the study of these traditions. All this came to an end in the 12th century though, you can read all about it on wiki

When Venerable Fǎxiǎn went looking for Buddhist scriptures, he went to Sri Lanka, to Abhayagirivihāra, where he retrieved a Sarvāstivāda Saṃyuktāgama that was eventually translated into Chinese (the SA collection here is that same text). In addition to this, he also picked up a Mahāyānika Parinirvāṇa Vaipulya, and several other śrāvaka & bodhisattva scriptures.

He actually went to Sri Lanka specifically for the purpose of looking for more vinaya texts, because there had been a disruption in the textual transmission of dhammavinaya to China, and few complete vinayas could be found in China at the time. In addition to the śrāvaka & bodhisattva scriptures, he also retrieved the Dharmaguptaka vinaya from Sri Lanka. This document some years later would be translated into Chinese by the Kashmiri monk Buddhayaśas (佛陀耶舍) in the 400s. One can read this Chinese translation on SuttaCentral.

That Abhayagirivihāra would house and preserve Buddhavacana recensions from multiple Buddhist schools speaks to the cosmopolitan society of the time.

Now it’s my turn to learn something new! Do you know anything about this meditation practice?

I’m guessing Pali would have been treated as a Prakrit.

The museums and sacred sites in Sri Lanka are full of Mahayana bodhisattvas and other imagery.

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Above, I mentioned that the decrees of King Ralpacan included adding to the beginning of vinaya texts a dedication to Lokavidū.

It seems that the Tibetans were very loose in applying this dedication. Lokavidū of course is an epithet of the Buddha. But when one peruses the opening dedications of various vinaya texts in the Tibetic Canon:


One sees a remarkable variety in ways to word this dedication. “Oṃ sarvajñāya” is a common variation. We also see “oṃ namo lokanāthāya”.

Lokanāthā is one of these bodhisattvāḥ you mention. He is the artist formerly known as Avalokiteśvara in Lanka.

It seems he is also the Buddha.

I am no art historian, but I am wondering if some alleged Lokanāthā’s in Sri Lanka are the Buddha, not the artist formerly known as Avalokiteśvara.

This is all speculation.

Yeah it is a pretty common Tibetan meditation practice for the purpose of raising bodhicitta. It’s breathing in the suffering of others (and dissolving the self in the process) and breathing back out well being. One starts out doing the practice on one’s own self, extending it to someone you care about, then strangers, and eventually enemies. The idea that you go with the easiest first.


Where is the Sri Lankan connection though? I just went searching myself. Seems interesting.

It’s just the story of the lineage. Which was passed down orally in Tibet for a while before being written down. And I know lineages are not the most trust worthy of things. So who knows if it is true or not. Just found it interesting that the plausibility of the origin story being true went up in hearing that actual texts traveled that far!

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Shhhhhhh… Don’t tell the Tibetans…

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