What the Āgamas are about, according to the Sarvāstivādins

Quite awhile ago, I read some classical formula describing the contents of the Āgamas / Nikāyas, but I could not remember where it came from. Then I stumbled across a reference for it today in the footnote of a Chinese Wikipedia article.

It’s a short but interesting passage, so I thought I would attempt a rough translation. The descriptions should apply equally to the Pali versions, since the basic structure and contents of these collections are similar.

In the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya Vibhāṣā 薩婆多毘尼毘婆沙, translated into Chinese between 350 and 431 CE, we can see the following in the preface (T. 1440, 23: 503c22-504a01).



This might be translated as follows:


Question: Why did the Buddha speak about everything by giving explanations according to the time and circumstances, expounding the Dharma in different divisions?


Answer: The Buddha spoke all dharmas according to the time and circumstances, and thereafter at the Buddhist Councils, the disciples arranged them according to their type.


At times, the Buddha would make prohibitions for disciples, some light and some serious, about what was harmful or not. These were compiled into the Vinaya Piṭaka.


At times he spoke of cause and effect, dependent origination, bonds and afflictions, and the manifestation of retribution. These were collected into the Abhidharma Piṭaka.


For devas and humans, expositions of the Dharma were spoken according to the occasion, and collected incrementally Ekottarika Āgama]. These are studied by those who exhort others to transformation.


To benefit the roots of sentient beings, various profound ideas were spoken. These are in the Mādhyama Āgama, which is studied by the scholars.


He spoke all kinds of things related to the principles of dhyāna. These are in the Saṃyukta Āgama, which is studied by those who practice meditation.


To refute those of outer paths, there is the Dīrgha Āgama.

No copyright, of course. :smile_cat: