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Translations of
(MLCTS: θàwəka̰)
(Pinyin: shēngwén)
(Rōmaji: shōmon)
Glossary of Buddhism

Śrāvaka (Sanskrit) or Sāvaka (Pali) means "hearer" or, more generally, "disciple". This term is used in Buddhism and Jainism. In Jainism, a śrāvaka is any lay Jain so the term śrāvaka has been used for the Jain community itself (for example see Sarak and Sarawagi). Śrāvakācāras are the lay conduct outlined within the treaties by Śvetāmbara or Digambara mendicants. "In parallel to the prescriptive texts, Jain religious teachers have written a number of stories to illustrate vows in practice and produced a rich répertoire of characters.".[1]

In Buddhism, the term is sometimes reserved for distinguished disciples of the Buddha.


Early Buddhism[edit]

In early Buddhism, a śrāvaka or śrāvikā is a disciple who accepts:

  • the Buddha as their teacher
  • the Buddha's teaching (the Dharma), including understanding the Four Noble Truths, ridding oneself of the unreality of the phenomenal, and pursuing nirvana. See, for instance, the Anguttara Nikaya's second Metta Sutta (AN 4.126)[2] when, taken in consideration of the first "Metta Sutta" (AN 4.125),[3] a disciple is described as one who "regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self."
  • the community rules of conduct: the Five Precepts for laypersons, the prātimokṣa for monastics.[4]

In the Nikāya, depending on the context, a sāvaka can also refer to a disciple of a teacher other than the Buddha.[5]

Theravada Buddhism[edit]

In Theravada Buddhism, a śrāvaka or śrāvikāt refers to one who followed in the tradition of the senior monks of the first Buddhist sangha and community. In the Pāli Canon, the term "disciple" transcends monastic-lay divisions and can refer to anyone from the following "four assemblies":[6]

Buddhist texts further mention four types of disciples based on spiritual accomplishment:[7][8][9]

  • "Chief Disciple" (Pāli: aggasāvaka; Sanskrit: agraśrāvaka): in the Pali canon, these are Sāriputta and (Mahā)moggallāna
  • "Foremost Disciple" (Pāli: etadaggasāvaka; Sanskrit: etadagraśrāvaka): referring to those disciples who are recognized as the best in their respective attribute
  • "Great Disciple" (Pāli: mahāsāvaka; Sanskrit: mahāśrāvaka): examples are Mahākassapa, Ānanda, Anuruddha and Mahākaccāna.[10]
  • "Ordinary Disciple" (Pāli: pakatisāvaka; Sanskrit: prakṛtiśrāvaka): constituting the majority of disciples, while devoted to the Buddha and his teaching and while having planted seeds for future liberation, they have not yet irreversibly entered the path to emancipation and are still subject to infinite rebirths.[11]


In the Pali commentaries, the term ariyasāvaka is explained as "the disciple of the Noble One (i.e. Buddha)".[12] Accordingly, Soma Thera and Thanissaro Bhikkhu translate this term as "The disciple of the Noble Ones"[13]

However Bhikkhu Bodhi interprets this term as "noble disciple", and according to him, in the Pali suttas, this term is used in two ways:[14]

  1. broadly: any lay disciple of the Buddha;
  2. 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" (ariyasāvaka).[15] Nyanatiloka writes, "sāvaka [...] refers, in a restricted sense (then mostly ariya-sāvaka, 'noble disciple'), only to the eight kinds of noble disciples (ariya-puggala, q.v.)."[16]

The canon occasionally references the "four pairs" and "eight types" of disciples.[17] This refers to disciples who have achieved one of the four stages of enlightenment:

In regards to disciples achieving arahantship, Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:

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]).[18]

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).[19](Sivaraksa 1993)

Foremost disciples[edit]

In the "Etadaggavagga" ("These are the Foremost Chapter," AN 1.188-267), the Buddha identifies 80 different categories for his "foremost" (Pāli: etadagga) disciples: 47 categories for monks, 13 for nuns, ten for laymen and ten for laywomen.[20][21]

While the disciples identified with these categories are declared to be the Buddha's "foremost" or "chief" (Pāli: etadagga), this is different from his "Chief Disciples" (Pāli: aggasāvaka) who are consistently identified solely as Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna.

  The Buddha's Foremost Disciples
(Based on AN 1.14)
CATEGORY Bhikkhu Bhikkhuni Upāsaka Upāsikā
Eldest Kondañña Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī
Great Wisdom Sāriputta Khemā
Psychic Powers Mahāmoggallāna Uppalavaṇṇā
Asceticism Mahākassapa
Divine Eye Anuruddha Sakulā
High Clan Bhaddiya Kāḷigodhāyaputta
Sweet Voice Bhaddiya the Dwarf
Lion's Roar Piṇḍolabhāradvāja
Dhamma Speaker Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta Sakulā Citta
Expounder Mahākaccāyana
Mind-made Body Cullapanthaka
Wholesome-Mind Development Cullapanthaka
Wholesome-Perception Development Mahāpanthaka
Free of Conflict Subhūti
Worthy of Offerings Subhūti
Forest-Dweller Revata
Meditator Kankhārevata Sundarinandā Uttarānandamātā
Energetic Soṇa Koḷivisa Soṇā
Beautiful Conversationalist Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa
Receiver of Gifts Sīvali
Inclined to Confidence Vakkali Singālamātā
Liking the Training Rāhula
Confidence in Going-Forth Raṭṭhapāla
First in Food Tickets Kuṇḍadhāna
Extemporiser Vaṅgīsa
Altogether Pleasing Vaṅgantaputta
Assigner of Living Quarters Dabba Mallaputta
Dear and Pleasing to Gods Pilindavaccha
Speed in Knowledge Bāhiya Dārucīriya Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā
Beautiful Speaker Kumārakassapa
Analytic Knowledge Mahākoṭṭhita
Great Deep Knowledge Bhaddakaccānā
Learned Ānanda Khujjuttarā
Mindful Ānanda
Good Behavior Ānanda
Courage Ānanda
Attendant Ānanda
Large Retinue Uruvelā Kassapa
Pleasing to Families Kāḷudāyī
Health Bakkula
Recalling Past Lives Sobhita Bhaddā Kapilānī
Discipline Upāli Paṭācārā
Instructor of Monks Mahākappina
Instructor of Nuns Nandaka
Sense-Door Restraint Nanda
Skilled in the Fire Element Sāgata
Extemporising Rādha
Wearing Coarse Robes Mogharāja Kisā Gotamī
First to Take Refuge Tapusa and Bhalika Sujātā
Supporter Anāthapiṇḍaka Visākhā
Four Bases of Sympathy Hattha Āḷavaka
Loving-Kindness Sāmāvatī
Excellent Alms Donor Mahānāma Suppavāsā
Attending with Medicinal Drink Suppiyā
Pleasant Supporter Ugga
Community Attendant Uggata
Unwavering Faith Sura Ambaṭṭha Katiyānī
Individual with Faith Jīvaka Komārabhacca
Confidence in the Traditions Kāḷī
Trustworthy Nakulapitu Nakulamātā

In addition, in SN 17.23,[22] SN 17.24[23] and AN 4.18.6,[24] 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 listed above, identified in the sub-section 14 of AN 1 (i.e. AN 1.188-267). These four pairs of disciples to be most emulated are:

The community of disciples[edit]

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...."[27]

A similar phrase can also be found in the lay disciple's daily chant, "Sangha Vandanā" ("Salutation to the Sangha").[28]

Mahāyāna view[edit]

In Mahayana Buddhism, śrāvakas or arhats are sometimes contrasted negatively with bodhisattvas.[29] [30]

In the 4th century abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asaṅga describes those who follow the Śrāvakayāna. 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.[31] Those in the Pratyekabuddhayāna are portrayed as also utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, are said to have medium faculties, to follow the Pratyekabuddha Dharma, and to be set on their own personal enlightenment.[32] Finally, those in the Mahāyāna "Great Vehicle" 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.[33]

According to Vasubandhu's Yogacara teachings, there are four types of śrāvakas:[34]

  1. The fixed
  2. The arrogant
  3. The transformed
  4. The converted (to "Bodhi" or Buddhism)

The transformed and the converted (Buddhist) are assured of eventual Nirvana in the Lotus Sutra.[citation needed]

According to Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism:

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.

— Lamrim Chenmo[35]


A śrāvaka in Jainism is a lay Jain. He is the hearer of discourses of monastics and scholars, Jain literature. In Jainism, the Jain community is made up of four sections: monks, nuns, śrāvakas (laymen) and śrāvikās (laywomen).

The term śrāvaka has also been used as a shorthand for the community itself. For example, the Sarawagi are a Jain community originating in Rajasthan, and sometimes śrāvaka is the origin of surnames for Jain families. The long-isolated Jain community in East India is known as the Sarak.

The conduct of a śrāvaka is governed by texts called śrāvakācāras,[36][37] the best known of which is the Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra of Samantabhadra.

A śrāvaka rises spiritually through the eleven pratimas. After the eleventh step, he becomes a monk.

Jains follow six obligatory duties known as avashyakas: samayika (practising serenity), chaturvimshati (praising the tirthankara), vandan (respecting teachers and monks), pratikramana (introspection), kayotsarga (stillness), and pratyakhyana (renunciation).[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Balbir, Nalini. "Article: Vows". www.jainpedia.org. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  2. ^ Hecker 2003.
  3. ^ Thanissaro 2006b.
  4. ^ Hecker 2003, p. xvi.
  5. ^ Hecker 2012, p. xvii.
  6. ^ Hecker 2012, p. xvi-xvii.
  7. ^ Acharya (2002), pp. 100-101. (On-line, see the "Glossary" entry for āriya.[1].)
  8. ^ Webu & Bischoff (1995)
  9. ^ Hecker 2012, pp. xxi–xxiii.
  10. ^ Hecker 2012, p. passim.
  11. ^ Hecker 2012, p. xviii-xix.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ See the translation of Kalama sutta by Soma Thera [2] and Thanissaro Bhikkhu [3]. In the Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Kalama sutta the term "noble disciple" is used instead.
  14. ^ Hecker 2012, p. 379.
  15. ^ Hecker 2003, pp. xviii–xix.
  16. ^ Nyanatiloka 2004, p. 187.
  17. ^ 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") [4] and "sāvaka" [5].
  18. ^ Bodhi Bhikkhu 2005, p. 226.
  19. ^ Hecker 2012, pp. xix–xxi.
  20. ^ The number of foremost disciple categories is evident from scanning Uppalavanna (n.d.-b)
  21. ^ Hecker 2003, p. xxiii.
  22. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 688.
  23. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 689.
  24. ^ Uppalavanna (n.d.-a).
  25. ^ According to AN 1.251, Hatthaka of Āḷavī is foremost "to establish liberality, kind speech, leading a useful life and a state of equality among the others".
  26. ^ (Bodhi, 2000, p. 812, n. 329;).
  27. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 320.
  28. ^ Indaratana (2002), pp. 7-8.
  29. ^ Hecker 2003, p. xvii.
  30. ^ Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton University Press), 2014, p. 850.
  31. ^ Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 199
  32. ^ Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. pp. 199-200
  33. ^ Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 200
  34. ^ P. 396 Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm Over Critical Buddhism edited by Jamie Hubbard, Paul Loren Swanson
  35. ^ From The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-Rim Chenmo), Pg.239, Volume One. Snow Lion Publications. Ithaca, NY.
  36. ^ Shravakachar Sangrah, Five Volumes, Hiralal Jain Shastri, Jain Sanskruti Samrakshak Sangh Solapur, 1988
  37. ^ Jaina yoga: a survey of the mediaeval śrāvakācāras By R. Williams
  38. ^ Jaini 1998, pp. 190.


External links[edit]