Main Four Schools of Buddhism
The Buddha was born in the 6th Century B.C. After attaining Enlightenment at the age of 35 until his Mahaparinibbana at the age of 80, he spent his life preaching and teaching. He was certainly one of the most energetic man who ever lived: for forty-five years he taught and preached day and night, sleeping for only about two hours a day. The Buddha spoke to all kinds of people: kings and princes, Brahmins, farmers, beggars, learned men and ordinary people. His teachings were tailored to the experiences, levels of understanding and mental capacity of his audience. What he taught was called Buddha Vacana, i.e. word of the Buddha. There was nothing called Theravada or Mahayana at that time. After establishing the Order of monks and nuns, the Buddha laid down certain disciplinary rules called the Vinaya for the guidance of the Order. The rest of his teachings were called the Dhamma which included his discourses, sermons to monks, nuns and lay people.
The First Council:
Three months after the Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana, his immediate disciples convened a council at Rajagaha. Maha Kassapa, the most respected and elderly monk, presided at the Council. Two very important personalities who specialised in the two different areas – the Dhamma and the Vinaya – were present. One was Ananda, the closest constant companion and disciple of the Buddha for 25 years. Endowed with a remarkable memory, Ananda was able to recite what was spoken by the Buddha. The other personality was Upali who remembered all the Vinaya rules. Only these two sections – the Dhamma and the Vinaya – were recited at the First Council. Though there were no differences of opinion on the Dhamma (no mention of the Abhidhamma) there was some discussion about the Vinaya rules.
Before the Buddha’s Parinibbana, he had told Ananda that if the Sangha wished to amend or modify some minor rules, they could do so. But on that occasion Ananda was so overpowered with grief because the Buddha was about to die that it did not occur to him to ask the Master what the minor rules were. As the members of the Council were unable to agree as to what constituted the minor rules, Maha Kassapa finally ruled that no disciplinary rule laid down by the Buddha should be changed, and no new ones should be introduced. No intrinsic reason was given. Maha Kassapa did say one thing, however: “If we changed the rules, people will say that Ven. Gotama’s disciples changed the rules even before his funeral fire has ceased burning.” At the Council, the Dhamma was divided into various parts and each part was assigned to an Elder and his pupils to commit to memory. The Dhamma was then passed on from teacher to pupil orally. The Dhamma was recited daily by groups of people who often cross check with each other to ensure that no omissions or additions were made. Historians agree that the oral tradition is more reliable than a report written by one person from his memory several years after the event.
The Second Council:
One hundred years later, the Second Council was held to discuss some Vinaya rules. There was no need to change the rules three months after the Parinibbana of the Buddha because little or no political, economic or social changes took place during that short interval. But 100 years later, some monks saw the need to change certain minor rules. The orthodox monks said that nothing should be changed while the others insisted on modifying some rules, Finally, a group of monks left the Council and formed the Mahasanghika – the Great Community. Even though it was called the Mahasanghika, it was not known as Mahayana, And in the Second Council, only matters pertaining to the Vinaya were discussed and no controversy about the Dhamma is reported,
The Third Council:
In the 3rd Century B.C. during the time of Emperor Asoka, the Third Council was held to discuss the differences of opinion among the bhikkhus of different sects. At this Council the differences were not confined to the Vinaya but were also connected with the Dhamma. At the end of this Council, the President of the Council, Moggaliputta Tissa, compiled a book called the Kathavatthu refuting the heretical, false views and theories held by some sects. The teaching approved and accepted by this Council was known as Theravada. The Abhidhamma Pitaka was included at this Council. After the Third Council, Asoka’s son, Ven. Mahinda, brought the Tripitaka to Sri Lanka, along with the commentaries that were recited at the Third Council. The texts brought to Sri Lanka were preserved until today without losing a page. The texts were written in Pali which was based on the Magadhi language spoken by the Buddha. There was nothing known as Mahayana at that time.
Origin of Schools of Buddhism:
Since its origin in India, Buddhism has not only spread into a number of other countries but it has also got divided into numerous schools and sub schools. These schools and sub schools have their own individual beliefs and practices but there are also some basic teachings that are common to all. The most important and broader division of Buddhist Schools is between the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. A third division Vajrayana is also there. These three schools are further subdivided into a number of sub schools. Details about all these schools are given in this section. You will get details like how and when these schools came up as well as how they spread to other parts of the world. You will also know about the basics points which make each of these schools different from other schools.
It has been found again and again in the history of human thought that every reasoned attempt to avoid philosophy lands a thinker into a new kind of philosophy. In spite of Buddha’s aversion to theoretical speculation, he never wanted to accept, nor did he encourage his followers to accept, any course of action without reasoning and criticism. He was extremely rational and contemplative, and wanted to penetrate into the very roots of human existence, and tried to supply the full justification of the ethical principles he followed and taught. It was no wonder, therefore, that he himself incidentally laid down the foundation of a philosophical system. His philosophy, partly expressed and partly implicit, may be called positivism in so far as he taught that our thoughts should be confined to this world and to the improvement of our existence here. It may be called phenomenalism is so far as he taught that we were sure only of the phenomena we experienced. It is, therefore, a kind of empiricism in method because experience, according to him, was the source of knowledge.
These different aspects of his philosophy came to be developed by his followers along different lines as they were required to justify Buddha’s teaching, to defend it from the serve criticism it had to face in India and outside, and to convert other thinkers to their faith. Buddha’s reluctance to discuss the ten metaphysical questions concerning things beyond our experience and his silence about them came to be interpreted by his followers in different lights. Some took this attitude as only the sing of a through going empiricism which must frankly admit the inability of mind to decide non-empirical questions. According to this explanation, Buddha’s attitude would be regarded as skepticism. Some other followers, mostly the Mahayanists, interpreted Buddha’s view neither as a denial of reality beyond objects of ordinary experience, nor as a denial of any means of knowing the non-empirical reality, but only as signifying the indescribability of that transcendental experience and reality. The justification of this last interpretation can be obtained from some facts of Buddha’s life and teaching. Ordinary empiricists believe that our sense-experience is the only basis of all our knowledge; they do not admit the possibility of any non-sensuous experience.
Buddha, however, taught the possibility of man’s attaining in nirvana an experience of consciousness which was not generated by the activity of the sense. The supreme value and importance that he attached to this non-empirical consciousness, justify his followers in supposing that he regarded this as the supreme reality, as well. The fact that very often Buddha used to say that he had a profound experience of things ‘far beyond’, which is ‘comprehended only by the wise’ and ‘not grasped by merge login’, may be taken to mean that his non-empirical experience can neither be logically proved with arguments nor be expressed in empirical ideas and language. These grounds lead some followers, as we shall see, to raise a philosophy of mysticism and transcendentalism out of the very silence of Buddha. The nemesis of neglected metaphysics thus overtakes Buddhism soon after the founder’s passing away.
Buddhism, though primarily an ethical-religious movement, thus came to give birth to about thirty schools, not counting the minor one. And some of these get into the deep waters of metaphysical speculation, heedless of the founder’s warning. Of these many schools we shall first notice the four distinguished in India by Buddhist and non-Buddhist writers. In the account, (1) Some Buddha philosophers are nihilists (Sunya-vadi or Madhyamika), (2) others are subjective idealist (Vijnana-vadi or Yogacara, (3) others again are representationists or critical realists (Bahyanumeya-vadi or Sautrantika), and (4) the rest are direct realist (Bahyapratyaksa-vadi or Vaibhasika). The first two of the above four schools come under Mahayana and the last two under Hinayana (Theravad). It should be noted, however, that under both Mahayana and Theravada there are many other schools.
The fourfold classification of Bauddha philosophy is based upon two chief questions, one metaphysical or concerning reality and the other epistemological or concerning the knowing of reality. To the metaphysical question “Is there at all any reality, mental or non-mental?” three different replies are given: (a) the Madhyamikas hold that there is no reality, mental or non-mental; that all is void (sunya). Therefore, they have been known as the nihilists (sunya-vadins), (b) The Yogacaras hold that only the me mental is real, the non-mental or the material world is all void of reality,. They are, therefore, called subjective idealist (Vijnana-vadins). (c) Still another class of Bauddhas hold that both the mental and non-mental are real. They may, therefore, be called realists. Sometimes they are styled Sarvastivadins (i.e. those who hold the reality of all things), thought this term is often used in a narrower sense by some Buddhist writers. But when the further epistemological question is asked: “How is external reality known to exist?’ these third groups of thinkers, who believe in external reality, give to different answers. Some of them, called Sautrantikas, hold that external objects are not perceived but known by inference. Others, known as Vaibhasikas, hold that the external world is directly perceived. Thus we have the four schools, representing the four important standpoints. This classification has much philosophical importance, even in the light of contemporary Western thought, where we find some these different views advocated with great force. Let us consider these four schools.
1.The Madhyamitka School of Sunya-vada:
The founder of this school is aid to be Nagarjuna, who was a Brahmin born in Sourth India about the second century A.D. Asvaghosa, the author of Buddhacarita is also regarded as a pioneer. In his famous work, Madhyamikasastra, Nagarjuna states, with great dialectical skill and scholarship, the philosophy of the Madhyamika school.
The doctrine of Sunya-vada has been understood in India, by non-Buddhist philosophers in general, to mean that the universe is totally devoid of reality, that everything is sunya or void. In setting forth this doctrine in this Sarvadarsana-sangraha, Madhavacarya has mentioned the following as an argument in its support. The self (or the knower), the object (or the known) and knowledge are mutually interdependent. The reality of one depends on each of the other two, and if one be false, the others also must be so (just as the fatherhood of any person will be proved false if the existence of his children be proved to be false). But it must be admitted by all that when we perceive a snake, in a rope, the object perceived, namely, the snake is absolutely false. Hence the mind or the subject which knows such as object turns out to be false and its knowledge also becomes false. Thus it may be concluded that all that we perceive within or without, along with their perception and the percipient mind, are illusory like dream-objects. There is, therefore, nothing, mental or non-mental, which is real. The universe is sunya or void of reality.
From such arguments it would appear that, according to the Madhyamika view, everything is unreal. Hence it is that such a view came to be known as nihilism in Europe as well as in India (where it has also been termed Sarva-vainasika-vada by some writers). The word sunya, use by the Madhyamikas theselves, is chiefly responsible for this notion – because sunya means ordinarily void or empty. But when we study this philosophy more closely, we come to realize that the Madhyamika view is not really nihilism, is ordinarily supposed, and that it does not deny all reality, but only the apparent phenomenal world perceived by us. Behind this phenomenal world there is a reality which is not describable by any character, mental or non-mental, that we perceive. Being devoid of phenomenal characters, it is called sunya. But this is only the negative aspect of the ultimate reality: it is only a description of what it is not .
In the Lankavatara-sutra (sagathaka, 167) it is stated that the real nature of objects cannot be ascertained by the intellect and cannot, therefore, be described. That which is real must be independent and should not depend on anything else for its existence and origination. But everything we know of is dependent on some condition. Hence it cannot be real. Again, it cannot be said to be unreal. Because an unreal thing, like, a castle in the air, can never come into existence. To say that it is both real and unreal or that it is neither real nor unreal, would be unintelligible jargon. Sunyata or voidness is the name for this indeterminable, indescribable real nature of things. Things appear to exist, but when we try to understand the real nature of their existence our intellect is baffled. It cannot be called either real or unreal, or both real and unreal, or neither real nor unreal.
It will be seen that in the above arguments, the indescribable nature of things is deduced from the fact of their being dependent on other things or conditions, Nagarjuna says, therefore, “The fact of dependent origination is called by us sunyata”. “There is no dharma (character) of things, which is not dependent on some other condition regarding its origin. Therefore, there is no dharma which is not sunya”. It would appear; therefore, that sunya only means the conditional character of things, and their consequent constant changeability and indeterminability or indescribability. This view is called the middle (madhyama) path, because it avoids extreme views by denying, for example, both absolute reality and absolute unreality of things and asserting their conditional existence. This was the reason why Buddha, as we saw, called the theory of dependent origination – the middle path. And so Nagarjuna says that sunya-vada is called the middle path because it implies the theory of dependent origination.
The conditionality of things which makes their own nature (svabhava) unascertainable, either as real or unreal, etc., may be also regarded as a kind of relativity. Every character of a thing is conditioned by something else and therefore its existence is relative to that condition. Sunya-vada can therefore, also be interpreted as theory of relativity which declares that no thing, no phenomenon experienced, has a fixed, absolute, independent character of its own (svabhava) and, therefore, no description of any phenomenon can be said to be unconditionally true. To this philosophy of phenomena (or things as they appear to us), the Madhyamikas add a philosophy of noumenon (or reality in itself).
Buddha’s teachings regarding dependent origination impermanence, etc., apply, they hold, only to the phenomenal world, to things commonly observed by us in ordinary experience. But when nirvana is attained and the conditions of sense-experience and the appearance of phenomena are controlled, what would be the nature of the resultant experience. To this we cannot apply the conditional characters true of phenomena. The Madhyamikas, therefore, hold that there is a transcendental reality (noumenon) behind the phenomenal one and it is free from change, conditionality and all other phenomenal characters. As Nagarjuna says: “There are two truths, on which Buddha’s teaching of Dharma depends, one is empirial (sarhvrti-satya) and ment for the ordinary people, and another is the transcendental or the absolutely true one (paramartha-satya). Those who do not know the distinction between these two kinds of truth, cannot understand the profound mystery of Buddha’s teachings.
The truth of the order is only a stepping-stone to the attainment of the higher. The nature of nirvana-experience which takes one beyond ordinary experience cannot be described, it can only be suggested negatively with the help of words which describe our common experience. Nagarjuna, therefore, describes nirvana with a series of negative, thus : “That which is not known (ordinarily), not generated is called nirvana. As with nirvana so also with the Tathagata or one who has realized nirvana. His nature also cannot be described. That is why, when Buddha was asked what becomes of the Tathagata after nirvana is attained, he declined to discuss the question.
In the same light the silence of Buddha regarding all metaphysical questions about non-empirical things can be interpreted to mean that he believed in a transcendental experience and reality, the truths about which cannot be described in terms of common experience. Buddha’s frequent statements that he had realized some profound truth which reasoning cannot grasp, can be cited also to support this Madhyamika contention about the transcendental.
This school became known as Madhyamika because it gave emphasis on Madhyama pratipad (the middle view) only as authoritative. It advocated ‘neither the theory of absolute reality nor that of total unreality of the world but merely relativity. It became known as Sunyavad because it held that sunyata was absolute.
Aryadeva, Candrakrirti and Santideva were prominent teachers of this philosophical school. Most probably, in the fifth century A.D. the Madhyamika school was divided into two schools of thought – the Prasangika school and the Svatantra school. Buddhapalita founded the former school and Bhavaviveka founded the latter school. Both of them were contemporaries and they were great teachers of the Madhyamika system. They belonged to the fifth century A.D. it may be noted here that the Tien-Tai and Sanlun – the two philosophical sects of Chinese Buddhism were the branches of Madhyamika sect of Indian Buddhism
2. The Yogacara School of Subjective Idealism:
Maitreya or Maitreyanatha was the founder of the Yogacara school. It was known as the Yogacara because it gave more emphasis on the practice of Yoga (Meditation) it was also known as the Vijnanavada because it held Vijnanntra (pure consciousness) as the ultimate reality. According to it, all external objects were unreal like dreams, mirages and sky-flowers and it accepted the real existence of Vijnana consciousness. Its followers were called the Yogacara or the Yogacarins. This school belived that one reached the highest state of bodhi (truth) after passing through all the ten stages of spiritual progress(dasa bhumi) of Buddhisttvahood.
Acarya Vasubandhu’s Vijnaptimatratasiddhi is the basic work of the Yogacara system and this work says that citta (cittamatra) or Vijnana (Vijnanamatra) is the only reality. The Yogacara brings out the practical side of the philosophy, while Vijnanavada brings out its speculative features. The Lamkavatarsutra and the Tattvasamgraha of Acarya Santaraksika are the basic works of the Yogacara system. The Yogacara school held that alayavijnana was the repository of the consciousness underlying the subject-object duality. According to it, alayavijnana was the womb of Tathagata (Tathagatagarbha). Like flowing water, it was a changing stream of consciousness. When one would understand Buddhahood, then immediately, its cause would stop.
The Yogacara School believed that pudgalanairatma (non-substantiality). The realization of these two nairatmas could be possible only by the removal of passions (klesavarana) and by the removal of evil covering true knowledge (jnayavarana). The Yogacara sect maintained that there were three varieties of knowledge – parikalpita (illusory), paratantra (empirial) and parinispanna (absolute) as against two of the Madhyamika system. It admitted that reality was pure consciousness (vijnanamatra) while the Madhyamika sect maintained that it was sunyat. Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, Dharmapala and Dharmakiriti were the distinguished thinkers of this school.
While agreeing with the Madhyamiks, as to the unreality of external objects, the Yogacara School differs from them in holding that the mind (citta) cannot be regarded as unreal. For then all reasoning and thinking would be false and the Madhyamikas could not even establish that their own arguments were correct. To say that everything, mental or non-mental, is unreal is suicidal. They reality of the mind should at least be admitted in order to make correct thinking possible.
The mind, consisting of a stream of different kinds of ideas, is the only reality. Things that appear to be outside the mind, our body as well as other objects, are merely ideas of the mind. Just as in cases of dreams and hallucinations as man fancies to perceive things outside, though they do not really exist there, similarly the objects which appear to be out there, are really ideas in the mind. The existence of any external object cannot be proved, because it cannot be shown that the objects is different from the consciousness of the object. As Dharmakirti states, the blue colour and the consciousness of the blue colour are identical, because they are never perceived to exist separately. Thought really one, they appear as two owing to illusion, just as the moon appears as two owing to defective vision As an object is never known without the consciousness of it, the object cannot be proved to have an existence independent of consciousness.
The Yogacaras also point out the following absurdities which arise from the admission of an object external to the mind. An external object, if admitted, must be either partless (i.e., atomic) or composite (i.e., composed of many parts). But atoms be perceived. A composite thing (like a pot) also cannot be perceived, because it is not possible to perceive simultaneously all the sides and parts of the object. Nor can it be said to be perceived part by part, because, if those parts are atomic they are too small to be perceived, and if they are composite, the original objection again arise. So if one admits extra mental objects, the perception of these objects cannot be explained. These objections do not arise if the object be nothing other than consciousness, because the question of parts and whole does not arise with regard to consciousness. Another difficulty is that the consciousness of the object cannot arise before the object has come into existence. Neither can it arise afterwards, because the object, according to those who admit it, being the cause of consciousness cannot be simultaneous with consciousness. Not cannot it be said that the object may be known by consciousness after it has ceased to exist. For in that case the object being in the past there cannot be any immediate knowledge or perception of it. Perception of present objects as we must admit always to have, remains, therefore, unexplained if objects are supposed to be external to the mind. This difficulty does not arise, if the object be supposed to be nothing other than consciousness..
The Yogacara view is called Vijnana-vada or idealism because it admits that there is, only one kind of reality which is of the nature of consciousness (vijnana) and objects which appear to be material or external to consciousness are really ideas or states of consciousness. This theory may be described further as subjective idealism because according to it the existence of an object perceived is not different from the subject or the perceiving mind.
One of the chief difficulties of subjective idealism is: If an object depends for its existence solely on the subject, then how is it that the mind cannot create at will any object at any time? How is it explained that objects do not change, appear or disappear at the will of the perceiver? To explain this difficulty, the Vijnana-vadin says that the mind is stream of momentary conscious states and within the steam there lie, buried the impressions (samskara) of all past experience. At a particular moment that latent impression comes to the surface of consciousness for which the circumstances of the moment are the most favorable. At that moment that impression attains maturity (paripaka), so to say, and develops into immediate consciousness or perception. It is thus that at that particular moment only that object, whose latent impression can, under the circumstances, reveal itself becomes perceived; just as in the case of the revival of past impressions in memory, though all the impressions are in the mind, only some are remembered at a particular time. This is why only some object can be perceived at a time and not any at will.
The mind considered in its aspect of being a store-house or home of all impressions is called by the Vjnana-vadins Alya-vijnana. It may be regarded as the potential mind answers, to the sourl or atman of other systems, with the difference that it is not one unchanging substance like the sourly, but is a stream of continuously changing states. Through culture and self-control this Alaya-vijnana or the potential mind can gradually stop the arising of undesirable mental states and develop into the ideal state of nirvana. Otherwise, it only gives rise to thoughts, desires, attachment which bind one more and more to the fictitious external world. The mind, the only reality according to this school, is truly its own place; it can make heaven of hell and hell of heaven. The Yogacaras are so called either because they used to practice yoga by which they came to realize the sole reality of mind (as Alaya-vijnana) dispelling all belief in the external world, or because they combined in them both critical inquisitiveness (yoga) and good conduct (acara). Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dinnaga are the famous leaders of the Yogacara school. Lankavatar-sutra is one of its most important works.
3. The Sautrantika School of Representationism:
Vasumitra mentioned that the Santrantika School existed in the fourth century A.D. The founder of this school was AcaryaKumaralata. Harivarman’s Satyadiddhisastra was an important work of this school. Srilabha was a teacher of this school and he wrote a commentary on a work of this school. Dharmottara and Yosomitra were followers of this school. The Santrantika philosophy was based on the original texts which contain the discourses of the Buddha rather than on the commentaries there on and for this reason, this school received the name Santrantika.
The Santrantikas rejected the authority of the Abhidharmapitaka but accepted the authority of the Sutras. They believed that the past and future elements did not exist but admitted the existence of the present only. According to them, the mental and external objects were both real and objects outside could be inferred from their mental pictures of ideas (bahyanumeya). All dharmas were impermanent and were void and unreal and Nirvana was not a real object. The Santrantikas held that the body of an arhat was pure and there were many Buddhas simultaneously. The santrantikas were also known as the Sarvavainsikas.
The Sautrantikas believe in the reality not only of the mind, but also of external objects. They point out that without the supposition of some external objects, it is not possible to explain even the illusory appearance of external objects. It one never perceived anywhere any external object, he could not say, as a Vijnana-vadin does, that, through illusion, c
onsciousness appears llike an external object. The phrase ‘like an external object’ is as meaningless as ‘like the son of a barren mother’ because an external object is said by the Vijnana-vadin to be wholly unreal and never perceived. Again, the argument from the simultaneity of consciousness and object to their identity is also defective. Whenever we have the perception of an object like a pot, the pot is felt as external and consciousness of it as internal (i.e. to be in the mind). So the object, from the very beginning, is known to be different from and not identical with consciousness. It the pot perceived were identical with the subject, the perceiver would have said, “I am the pot”. Besides, if there were no external objects, the distinction between the ‘consciousness of a pot’ and ‘the consciousness of a cloth’ could not be explained, because as consciousness both are identical; it is not only regarding the objects that they differ. Hence we must admit the existence of different external objects outside consciousness. These objects give particular forms to the different states of consciousness. From these forms or representations of the objects in the mind we can infer the existence of their causes, i.e. that objects outside the mind.
The reason why we cannot perceive at will any object at any time and place, lies in the fact that a perception depends on four different conditions and not simply on the mind. There must be the object to impart its form to consciousness, there must be the conscious mind (or the state of the mind at the just previous moment) to cause the consciousness of the form, there must be the sense to determine the kind of the consciousness, that is, whether the consciousness of that object would be visual, tactual or of any other kind. Lastly, there must be some favorable auxiliary condition, such as light, convenient position, perceptible magnitude, etc. all these combined together bring about the perception of the object. The form of the object thus generated in the mind, is the effect of the object, among other things. The existence of the objects is not of course perceived, because what mind immediately knows is the copy ore representation of the objects in its own consciousness. But from this it can infer’ the object without which the copy would not arise.
The Sautrantika theory is, therefore, called also the theory of the infer ability of external objects (Bahyanumeya-vada). The name ‘Sautrantika’ is given to this school because it attaches exclusive importance to the authority of the Sutrantika. The arguments used by this school for the refutation of subjective idealism anticipated long ago some of the most important arguments which modern Western realists like Moore use to refute the subjective idealism of Berkely. The Sautrantika position in epistemology resembles ‘representationism’ or the ‘copy theory ideas’ which was common among Western philosophers like Locke. This exists even now is a modified form among some critical realists.
4. The Vaibhasika School:
The Vaibhasikas denied the authority of the Sutras and accepted only the Abhidharma. The Jnanaprasthanasutra of Arya Katyayaniputra, the Sangitiparyaya of Mahakausthila, the Prakaranapada of Sthavira Vasumitra, the Vijnankaya of Sthavira Devasarma, the Dhatukaya of Purna, the Dharmaskandha of Arya Sariputra and the Prajnaptisastras of Arya Madgalgoyanana were the seven Abhidharma treatises whcich served the formation of the general foundation of its philosophy.
Of them the Jnanaprasthanasutra is mentioned as the principla treatise and others are padas or supplements. The Vaibhasika philosophy was based on commentary (Vibhasa) and for this reason, this sect received the name Vaibhasika. The Nyayanusarastra of Sanghabhadra was another work of this system of thought. Dharmatrata, Ghosaka and Buddhadeva were prominent teachers of the Baibhasika philosophy. The Vaibhasikas were realists. They accepted the reality of both internal and external objects.
They believed that external objects were directly known and not inferred. They admitted the theory of direct realism (bahyapratyaksavad). They agreed that Nirvana is a perfect state of bliss. According to them, seventy-five dharmas existed and these dharmas were broadly divided into impure (sasrava) and pure (anasrava). The impure dharmas were known as samskrta (constituted) dharmas while pure dharmas were called asamskrta (unconstituted) dharmas. Constituted dharmas took their origination from hetus (causes), while unconstitued dharmas were ahetus (causeless). The Vaibhasikas refued to accept the existence of atma or soul and pudgala or personality. Skandhas (constituted elements) and mahabutas (great elements) could help to produce a being. The Vaibhaiskas agreed that the Buddha was a human being who entered into nothingness after reaching the stage of Nirvana by his Buddhahood and another Nirvana by his death.
While agreeing with the Sautrantikas regarding the reality of both the mental and the non-mental, the Vaibhasikas, like many modern neo realists, point out that that unless we admit that external objects are perceived by us, their existence cannot be known in any other way. Inference of fire from the perception of smoke is possible, because in the past we have perceived both smoke and fire together. One who has never perceived fire previously cannot infer its existence from the perception of smoke. It external objects were never perceived, as the Sautrantikas hold, then they could not even be inferred, simply from their mental forms. To one unacquainted with an external object, the mental form would not appear to be the copy or the sign of the existence of an extra-mental object, but as an original thing which does not own its existence to anything outside the mind. Either, therefore, we have to accept subjective idealism (vijnana-vada) or, if that has been found unsatisfactory, we must admit that the external object is directly known. The Vaibhasikas thus come to hold a theory of direct realism (bahya.pratyaksa-vada).
The Abhidhamma treatises formed the general foundation of the philosophy of the realists. The Vaibhasikas followed exclusively a particular commentary, Vibhasa (or Abhi-dahmma-mahavibhasa on an Abhi-dhamma treatise (Abhidharma-jnana-prastnana). Hence their name.
M.A. Buddhist Studies & Civilization, 2012-13, – GBU, Greater Noida, U.P, India
Main Four Schools of Buddhism by Dr. Manish Meshram, Assistant Professor, SBSC, GBU