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Dhamma Lineage



The Vibhajyavadins ('the distinctionists') rejected the Sarvastivada view that dharmas possess 'own nature' as a separate reality. Instead, they thought that a dharma's 'own nature' exists only in its characteristics which rely themselves on other dharmas for their causation. The Vibhajyavadins thought that Nirvana is the only dharma which is not caused or conditioned by the spatial or temporal world. In this they differed from the Sarvastivadins who recognised a second unconditioned dharma, space. The Vibhajyavadins thought that if a dharma is unconditioned it cannot be divided by conditioning factors such as time and space. Related to this is the Vibhajyavadin doctrine that Nirvana is not attained gradually in a series of moments but in a single thought moment in which the Four Noble Truths are realised simultaneously.
     The Vibhajyavadins regarded Gotama Buddha as a fully human being who attained enlightenment through insights which other human beings could aspire to. Those who achieved such insight, Arhats or 'worthy ones', were regarded as perfect in all respects and incapable of slipping back to lower states. Arhats were therefore equivalent to Buddhas. This understanding of Arhatship meant that the goal of enlightenment was reserved for monks and nuns and was not one which lay Buddhists could aspire to.


The Vibhajyavadins were a subsect of the Sthaviravadins ('the elders') who split from the majority of monks, the Mahasamghikas, probably around the time of the second Buddhist council at Vaisali (330-320 BCE) or at a later meeting at Pataliputra (c.308 BCE). The split may have been caused by differences in the understanding of the status of an arhat but, more likely by differences in the disciplinary code. The Sthaviravada school went on to divide further during the third century BCE, due in part to its geographical spread but also because of developing disciplinary and doctrinal differences. At this time the Vibhajyavadins divided from the Pudgalavada and the Sarvastivada. Vibhajyavada thought was assimilated by the Theravada school which became established in Sri Lanka.


There is no inscriptional or textual evidence to indicate that the school had a distinctive symbol system.


The Vibhajyavadin school was strong in the south of India where it survived until the seventeenth century. It is no longer extant in its earliest form although the Theravada, which thrives in Sri Lanka and South-East Asia, traces its history through the Vibhajyavada school.

Main Centre

To our knowledge the school had no headquarters or main centre but was strong throughout Southern India.