Very little Pudgalavada literature has survived so that it is difficult to gain a full picture of their doctrines. Four philosophical works survive in Chinese translation and it is clear from these that the major point of difference between this school and others is in its understanding of the person or pudgala. The Pudgalavadins thought there was a really existing person, perceptible only to Buddhas. The person continued from life to life and was the carrier of accumulated karma and the explanation for memory. This person, they argued, was neither different from nor identical to the sum of the skhandhas, the factors of personality which, according to the other schools, make up the person as conventionally designated.
The Pudgalavada was one of three systems of thought which developed after the first major split in the Sangha. Along with the Sarvastivada and the Vibhajyavada, the Pudgalavada developed from the Sthaviravada. The school originated in the third century BCE and was very successful. In the seventh century CE the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan-Tsang recorded that there were 66,000 Pudgalavada monks in India operating under the patronage of the emperor Harsa. This figure represents the majority of non-Mahayana monks remaining in India at that time. The school eventually died out in the ninth or tenth centuries.
There is no inscriptional or textual evidence to suggest that the school had a distinct symbol system.
The school has no contemporary adherents.
To our knowledge, the school had no main centre. It was particularly strong in western India.