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).

問曰。佛云何一切說。為應時適會隨宜說耶。為部黨相從而說法耶。

答曰。佛隨物適時說一切法。後諸集法藏弟子以類撰之。佛或時為諸弟子制戒輕重有殘無殘。撰為律藏。或時說因果相生諸結諸使及以業相。集為阿毘曇藏。為諸天世人隨時說法。集為增一。是勸化人所習。為利根眾生說諸深義。名中阿含。是學問者所習。說種種隨禪法。是雜阿含。是坐禪人所習。破諸外道。是長阿含。

This might be translated as follows:

問曰。佛云何一切說。為應時適會隨宜說耶。為部黨相從而說法耶。

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

答曰。佛隨物適時說一切法。後諸集法藏弟子以類撰之。

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.

佛或時為諸弟子制戒輕重有殘無殘。撰為律藏。

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.

或時說因果相生諸結諸使及以業相。集為阿毘曇藏。

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.

為諸天世人隨時說法,集為增一,是勸化人所習。

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.

為利根眾生說諸深義,名中阿含,是學問者所習。

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

說種種隨禪法,是雜阿含,是坐禪人所習。

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.

破諸外道,是長阿含。

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

No copyright, of course. :smile_cat:

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