|Glossary of Buddhism|
Śrāvaka (Sanskrit) or Sāvaka (Pāli) means "hearer" or, more generally, "disciple". This term is used in Buddhism and Jainism. In Jainism, a shravaka is any lay Jain. Thus the term shravaka has been used for the Jain community itself (for example see Sarak and Saraogi). In Buddhism, the term is sometimes reserved for distinguished disciples of the Buddha.
In Nikaya Buddhism, sāvaka (m.) or sāvikā (f.) is a disciple who accepts:
- the Buddha as their teacher,
- the Buddha's teaching (the Dhamma),
- the Buddha's rules of conduct (Five Precepts for laypersons, Patimokkha for monastics).
Who's a "disciple"?
|People of the Pāli Canon|
- "Chief Disciple" (Pāli: aggasāvaka; Sanskrit: agraśrāvaka):
- In the Pali canon, the Chief Disciples are Sāriputta (Pāli; Sanskrit: Śāriputra) and Mahāmoggallāna (Pāli; Sanskrit: Maudgalyāyana).
- "Great Disciple" (Pāli: mahāsāvaka; Sanskrit: mahā-śrāvaka):
- Examples of Great Disciples are Mahākassapa (Pāli; Sanskrit: Mahākāśyapa), Ānanda, Anuruddha and Mahākaccāna.
- "Ordinary Disciple" (Pāli: pakatisāvaka; Sanskrit: prakṛtiśrāvaka):
- Ordinary disciples, who constitute the majority of disciples, while devoted to the Buddha and his teaching and while having planted seeds for future liberation, have not yet irreversibly entered the path to emancipation and are still subject to infinite rebirths.
In the traditional Pali commentaries, the Pali term ariya-sāvaka is explained as "the disciple of the Noble One (i.e. Buddha)". Accordingly Soma Thera and Thanissaro Bhikkhu translate this term as "The disciple of the Noble Ones"
However Bhikkhu Bodhi interprets this term as "noble disciple", and according to him, in the Pali suttas, this term is used in two ways:
- broadly: any lay disciple (Pāli: upasaka, upasika) of the Buddha;
- narrowly: one who is at least on the path to enlightenment (Pāli: sotāpatti maggattha). In this sense, "ordinary people" (puthujjana) can be contrasted with this narrow definition of "noble disciple" (ariya-sāvaka).
- stream-enterer (Pāli: sotāpatti)
- once-returner (Pāli: sakadāgāmitā)
- non-returner (Pāli: anāgāmitā)
- arahant (Pāli: arahatta)
For each of these stages, there is a "pair" of possible disciples: one who is on the stage's path (Pāli: magga); the other who has achieved its fruit (Pāli: phala). Thus, each stage represents a "pair" of individuals: the path traveler (Pāli: maggattha) and the fruit achiever (Pāli: phalattha). Hence, the community of disciples is said to be composed of four pairs or eight types of individuals (Pāli: cattāri purisayugāni attha purisapuggalā).
In the Pali canon, the Buddha often contrasts the "instructed disciple of the Noble Ones" (Pāli: sutavā ariya-sāvaka) with the "uninstructed worlding" (Pāli: assutavā puthujjana). For instance, in the "Sabbasava Sutta," the Buddha states:
- The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones – who has regard for noble ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma – discerns what ideas are fit for attention and what ideas are unfit for attention.
In the "Etadaggavagga" ("These are the Foremost Chapter," AN 1.14), the Buddha identifies 80 different categories for his "foremost" (Pāli: agga) disciples: 47 categories for monks, 13 for nuns, ten for laymen and ten for laywomen. Some of these categories and the associated disciples are identified in the table below.
|The Buddha's Foremost Disciples
(Based on AN 1.14)
|Great / High Wisdom||Sāriputta||Khemā,
|Teaching / Knowledge||Mahākaccāna,
|First Taking Refuge||—||—||Tapussa,
In addition, in SN 17.23, SN 17.24 and AN 4.18.6, the Buddha identifies four pairs of disciples "who have no compare" and who should thus be emulated. These four pairs are a subset of the 80 foremost disciples identified in the aforementioned sutta AN 1.14. These four pairs of disciples to be most emulated are:
- monks: Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna
- nuns: Khemā and Uppalavannā
- laymen: Citta (Macchikasandika) the householder and Hatthaka of Alavaka
- laywomen: Kujjuttara and Velukandaki the mother of Nanda (also known as Uttaranandamātā)
The community of disciples
In Buddhism, there are two main communities (Pāli: sangha):
- The "community of monks and nuns" (Pāli: bhikkhu-sangha; bhikkhuni-sangha) refers to a community of four or more monks or nuns who are living in a permanent or semi-permanent single-sex community (in the contemporary West monks and nuns may live within the same monastery but in separate living quarters). Within this community of monks and nuns there is a further sub-division containing practitioners (who are nonetheless still living among their fellow renunciates) possessed of some substantive level of realization (namely, those who have at least gained stream-entry). This core group is called the "noble sangha" (ariya-sangha).
- The "community of disciples" (Pāli: sāvaka-sangha) refers to the broad community of monks, nuns, and male and female layfollowers.
For an example of a traditional stock reference to the sāvaka-sangha in the Pali canon, in "The Crest of the Standard" discourse (SN 11.3), the Buddha advises his monks that, if they experience fear, they can recollect the Buddha or the Dhamma or the Sangha; and, in recollecting the Sangha they should recall:
- "The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples [sāvaka-sangha] is practising the good way, practising the straight way, practising the true way, practising the proper way; that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight types of individuals...."
In the 4th century abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asaṅga describes those who follow the Śrāvaka Vehicle (Skt. śrāvakayanika). These people are described as having weak faculties, following the Śrāvaka Dharma, utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, being set on their own liberation, and cultivating detachment in order to attain liberation. While those in the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle (Skt. pratyekabuddhayānika) are portrayed as also utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, they are said to have medium faculties, to follow the Pratyekabuddha Dharma, and to be set on their own personal enlightenment. Finally, those in the Mahāyāna (Skt. mahāyānika) are portrayed as utilizing the Bodhisattva Piṭaka, as having sharp faculties, following the Bodhisattva Dharma, and set on the perfection and liberation of all beings, and the attainment of complete enlightenment.
- The fixed
- The arrogant
- The transformed
- The converted (to "Bodhi" or Buddhism)
The transformed and the converted (Buddhist) are assured in the Lotus Sutra of eventual Nirvana.
According to Je Tsongkhapa (founder of the Tibetan Gelug School): "The Sutra on the Ten Levels (Daśabhūmika Sūtra) says that those who have cultivated these ten [virtuous practices, i.e. not killing, not stealing, not lying etc.] through fear of cyclic existence and without [great] compassion, but following the words of others, will achieve the fruit of a Śrāvaka."
The Jain chaturvidha sangha includes monks, nuns, lay men (shravas) and women (shravikas). Thus the term shravaka has been used for the Jain community itself. Saraogi the name of a Jain community, and sometimes the last name in some families, is derived from Shravak. The long lost Jain community in eastern India is named Sarak, recalling its jain background.
- See, for instance, PTS (1921-25), p. 707, entry for "Sāvaka"., which identifies the etymological root of "sāvaka" to be śru. In Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), p. xvii, Bhikkhu Bodhi provides a seemingly different derivation, stating that "sāvaka" comes from sāveti, meaning "to declare", and refers either to one declaring the Buddha as their teacher or to one to whom the Dhamma has been declared.
- At times, in the Nikayas, depending on the context, sāvaka can also refer to a disciple of a teacher other than the Buddha (Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi, 2003, p. xvii).
- Following the Buddha's teaching includes understanding the Four Noble Truths, ridding oneself of the unreality of the phenomenal, and pursuing nibbana. See, for instance, the Anguttara Nikaya's second "Metta Sutta" (AN 4.126) (Thanissaro, 2006b) when, taken in consideration of the first "Metta Sutta" (AN 4.125) (Thanissaro, 2006a), a disciple is described as one who "regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness [see Skandha], as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self [compare Three marks of existence]."
- Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), p. xvi.
- Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), p. xvii.
- Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), pp. xvi-xvii.
- Acharya (2002), pp. 100-101. (On-line, see the "Glossary" entry for āriya..) Also see Webu & Bischoff (1995); and, Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), pp. xxi-xxiii.
- See, for example, Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), passim.
- Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), pp. xviii-xix.
- See the entry for "ariya" in Pali Text Society Pali-English dictionary, and Pali commentaries: Itivuttaka-Atthakatha 2.73, Ekanipata-Atthakatha 1.63, Patisambhidamagga-Atthakatha 1.167, Sammohavinodani-Atthakatha 119, Nettippakarana-Atthakatha Mya:112.
- See the translation of Kalama sutta by Soma Thera  and Thanissaro Bhikkhu . In the Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Kalama sutta the term "noble disciple" is used instead.
- Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), p. 379, n. 4.
- Ibid., pp. xviii-xix. Also see, Nyanatiloka (1952)'s entry for "sāvaka" where he states:
- "sāvaka: ... refers, in a restricted sense (then mostly ariya-sāvaka, 'noble disciple'), only to the 8 kinds of noble disciples (ariya-puggala, q.v.)." [Italics added.]
- See, for instance, "The Crest of the Standard" discourse (SN 11.3) (Bodhi, 2000, p. 320) as well as Nyanatiloka (1952), entries for "ariya-puggala" ("noble ones") and "sāvaka".
- In regards to disciples achieving arahantship, Bodhi (2005), p. 226, states:" In principle the entire practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is open to people from any mode of life, monastic or lay, and the Buddha confirms that many among his lay followers were accomplished in the Dhamma and had attained the first three of the four stages of awakening, up to nonreturning (anāgāmi; Theravāda commentators say that lay followers can also attain the fourth stage, arahantship, but they do so either on the verge of death or after attainment immediately seek the going forth [that is, homelessness, associated with becoming a monastic]).
- Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), pp. xix-xxi; and, Prayudh (1986).
- Nyanatiloka (1980), in his entry for "ariya-puggala," further references the Visuddhimagga, Ch. XXI, verse 73, for a "sevenfold grouping" of noble disciples who have achieved stream-entry as follows: the faith-devotee (Pāli: saddhānusārī); the faith-liberated one (Pāli: saddhā-vimutta); the body-witness (Pāli: kāya-sakkhī); the both-ways-liberated one (Pāli: ubhato-bhāga-vimutta); the Dhamma-devotee (Pāli: dhammānusārī); the vision-attainer (Pāli: ditthippatta); and, the wisdom-liberated one (Pāli: paññā-vimutta). For more detailed information, see Buddhaghosa & Nanamoli (1999), pp. 680 (§ 66), 682-83 (§§ 74-78).
- See, for instance, Bodhi (2005), pp. 21ff. See also Thanissaro (1997).
- Thanissaro (1997).
- The number of foremost disciple categories is evident from scanning Uppalavanna (n.d.-b) as well as mentioned in Nyanaponika, Hecker & Bodhi (2003), p. xxiii. While the disciples identified with these categories are declared to be the Buddha's "foremost" or "chief" (Pāli: agga), this is different from his "Foremost" or "Chief Disciples" (Pāli: aggasavaka) who are consistently identified solely as Sariputta and Mahamoggallana. In this article, in order to avoid confusion regarding this use of the Pāli word agga, the aggasavakas will be referred to as "Chief Disciples" while those disciples simply referred to as being agga will be called "foremost" disciples.
- Based on Uppalavanna (n.d.-b).
- Bodhi (2000), p. 688.
- Bodhi (2000), p. 689.
- Uppalavanna (n.d.-a).
- According to AN 1.14, Hatthaka of Alavaka is foremost "to establish liberality, kind speech, leading an useful life and a state of equality among the others" (Uppalavanna, n.d.-b).
- According to AN 1.14, Velukandakiya is foremost in jhanic meditation (Bodhi, 2000, p. 812, n. 329; and, Uppalavanna, n.d.-b).
- Bodhi (2000), p. 320.
- Indaratana (2002), pp. 7-8.
- Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 199
- Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. pp. 199-200
- Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 200
- P. 396 Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm Over Critical Buddhism edited by Jamie Hubbard, Paul Loren Swanson
- From The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-Rim Chenmo), Pg.239, Volume One. Snow Lion Publications. Ithaca, NY.
- Shravakachar Sangrah, Five Volumes, Hiralal Jain Shastri, Jain Sanskruti Samrakshak Sangh Solapur, 1988
- Jaina yoga: a survey of the mediaeval śrāvakācāras By R. Williams
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- Pali Text Society (PTS) (1921–1925). The Pali Text Society's Pali-English dictionary. London: Chipstead. Available on-line at: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/.
- Prayudh Payutto (1986). Sangha: The Ideal World Community. A lecture delivered in January 2529/1986 at the Fourth International Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, held at Buddha's Light Vihara, Bangkok. Available on-line at: http://www.saigon.com/~anson/ebud/ebdha062.htm.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans., 2006a). Metta Sutta: Good Will (1) (AN 4.125). Available on-line at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.125.than.html.
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- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans., 1997). Sabbasava Sutta: All the Fermentations (MN 2). Available on-line at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.002.than.html.
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