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Vibhajyavāda (Sanskrit; Pāli: Vibhajjavāda; traditional Chinese: 分別說部; ; pinyin: fēnbiéshuō-bù) was a group of Sthavira Buddhist schools of early Buddhism, who rejected the Sarvastivada teachings at the Third Buddhist council (ca. 250 BCE).

Nomenclature and etymology[edit]

The word Vibhajyavāda may be parsed into vibhajya, loosely meaning "dividing", "analyzing" and vāda holding the semantic field: "doctrine", "teachings".[1] According to Andrew Skilton, the analysis of phenomena (Skt. dharmas) was the doctrinal emphasis and preoccupation of the Vibhajyavādins.[1]


The Vibhajyavādins are a group of early Buddhist schools, who rejected the Sarvastivada teachings at the third Buddhist council (ca. 250 BCE).[2] The name means "those who make distinctions," and include the Kāśyapīya, Mahīśāsaka and Dharmaguptaka.[2] The Vibhajyavādins were strongly represented in south India, where they called themselves Theravada. They survived until the seventeenth century in south India, and are still extant in Sri Lanka.[3]

The Vibhajyavādins rejected the Sarvastivada claim that all dhammas exist in the past, present and future. Instead, they made a distinction between dhammas that "exist" and dhammas that do not exist, hence the name "distinctionists."[4] Their standpoints were formulated by Moggaliputtatissa in the Kathavatthu, which belongs to the Pali Canon.[2]

The Vibhajyavādins are not recorded uniformly by early Buddhist traditions as being a distinct sect, nor being associated with any one period of time.[5] Some scholars believe that there was no separate "Vibhajyavāda" sect, but that the term vibhajyavāda was sometimes affixed to the name of a school to indicate that it differed from the main school on some doctrines.[6] In this sense, they would be vibhajyavādins of that particular school.[6]

Sectarian views[edit]

The Theravādins of Sri Lanka were Sthavira-Vibhajyavādins, differing somewhat from the main Sthavira school in their doctrinal interpretations,[6] although the Theravādin Kathāvatthu does not contain any reference to a Vibhajyavāda school.[5]

The Sammatīyas (Pudgapala) also do mention the Vibhajyavādins.[5] According to the Sammatīya sect, the Vibhajyavādins developed from the Sarvāstivāda school.[5]

The Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra describes the Vibhajyavādins as being the type of heretics who "make objections, who uphold harmful doctrines and attack those who follow the authentic Dharma".[7][8]

The Mahāsāṃghika saw the Vibhajyavādins as being offshoots from the root schism in Buddhism, which according to them produced three sects: the Sthaviras, the Mahāsāṃghikas, and the Vibhajyavādins.[5] The Mahāsāṃghikas list the Mahīśāsaka, Dharmaguptaka, Kāśyapīya, and Tāmraparnīya (Theravada) sects as having descended from the Vibhajyavādins.[5] The Mahāsāṃghika branch itself, together with the Prajñaptivāda, preferred to be called Bahuśrutiya-Vibhajyavādins.[7]

See also[edit]

Early Buddhist schools


  1. ^ a b Skilton 2004, p. 67.
  2. ^ a b c Berkwitz 2012, p. 58.
  3. ^ Harvey 1995, p. 86.
  4. ^ Wardery 2000, p. 264.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Baruah 2008, p. 51.
  6. ^ a b c Dutt 1998, p. 211.
  7. ^ a b Baruah 2008, p. 48.
  8. ^ Tripathi 2008, p. 113.


  • Baruah, Bibhuti (2008), Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism 
  • Berkwitz, Stephen C. (2012), South Asian Buddhism: A Survey, Routledge 
  • Dutt, Nalinaksha (1998), Buddhist Sects in India 
  • Harvey, Peter (1995), An introductio to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press 
  • Skilton, Andrew (2004), A Concise History of Buddhism 
  • Tripathi, Sridhar (2008), Encyclopaedia of Pali Literature 
  • Warder, A.K. (2000), Indian Buddhism, Motilall Banarsidas 

Further reading[edit]

  • Lance Cousins, "On the Vibhajjavādins: The Mahimsasaka, Dhammaguttaka, Kassapiya and Tambapanniya branches of the ancient Theriyas", Buddhist Studies Review 18, 2 (2001)
  • Prasad, Chandra Shekhar, "Theravada and Vibhajjavada: A Critical Study of the Two Appellations"' East & West Vol 22 (1972)

External links[edit]