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[Help] On the name of Theravada

To: talk.religion.buddhism
From: (John Neatrour)
Subject: Re: [Help] On the name of "Theravada"
Date: 5 Apr 1996 00:29:33 GMT

In article <>,
Binh Anson   wrote:
>	Thanks, John, for your kind explanation (as always). N.R. Reat (Buddhism, A 
>History - 1994) wrote that:
>	Sthaviravada (Sanskrit) = Theravada (Pali) = Doctrine of the Elders

you are most welcome. 

>	Now, my question are: when did the term "Theravada" first appear ? in what period 
>? in what document ? Similarly, when did the term "Mahayana" first appear ? in what 
>document (or scripture) ?

the term Sthaviravada/Theravada first appeared at the time of the 1st schism
with the Mahasanghikas (= Larger Sangha) so 3rd century BCE. as far as
Mahayana as a term is concerned the earliest Mahayana Sutras are listed in
Akira Hirakawa's History of Indian Buddhism. these are from 1st century CE so
a difference of 200-300 years is possible. the first really completely self
conscious use of the term Mahayana is in the Lotus Sutra at 2-3 century CE.

now this is further complicated by the fact that Williams in his Mahayana
Buddhism has cited a very early sutra found in ruins in Afghanistan that has
strong Mahayana tendencies without the polemic. this sutra did not make its
way into the Tibetan or Chinese canons and so although it seems much earlier
than the Lotus Sutra, and quite Mahayana, has no reference to Mahayana as a

some authorities have hinted that Mahayana is an elaboration of Mahasanghika
since there is a lot of similarity between a larger vehicle and a larger

to complicate matters further, the Sarvastivadins regarded themselves as
Sthaviravadins! i.e. the elder branch of the teaching lineage in comparison
with the Vibhajyavadins and Theravadins and their related schools.

now i don't know where you are going with this Binh but there are several
related questions that make Mahayana-Theravada relations extremely murky.
particularly with regard to lineage and ordination tradition issues, for

Tibetan Mahayana seems to be in an ordination tradition which follows the
Sarvastivada/Mulasarvastivada tradition, that is the vinaya current in Tibetan

Ch'an/Zen had the ordination tradition of the 4 part vinaya of the
Dharmaguptakas, a school more closely related to the Theravada. however, the
lineage contains names common to Theravada, Sarvastivada, and Sautrantika
schools. although the Mahasanghika and Sarvastivada vinayas were used, the
Chinese (and after the Japanese) preferred the Dharmaguptaka vinaya
supplemented by the additional bodhisattva vinaya.

in Chinese and Japanese canons the Vissudhimagga of Buddhaghosa is regarded as
canonical and exists in Chinese translation. this is natural since the
definition of 'canonical' is more liberal. however the root abhidharma text is
Vasubhandu's Abhidharmakosha which is principally a discussion of Sarvastivada
and Sautrantika doctrines, plus others.

anyway the history is quite tangled and the time spent in trying to untangle
it may possible be better spent practicing? nevertheless, i am happy to
discuss this in any direction you feel curious.


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