- Role of Sarvaastivaada in Afghanistan
- C. S. Upasak
Buddhism reached Afghanistan very early, rather much earlier than
many other Buddhist countries where Buddhism is still flourishing and which claim to have
received it at the earliest. The message of the Buddha was brought to this country during
the very life-time of the Buddha through Tapassu and Bhallika, the First Great
Lay-Disciples, who hailed from Ballika or modern Balkh. This fact has been authenticated
by the accounts of Hiuen-tsang who witnessed himself the two stuupas built over the hair
and nail partings of the Buddha by them near this town. Hiuen-tsang worshipped these
stuupas while journeying to India. A vihaara was built at Balkh or Bhallika when he
returned to his town after being initiated to the Sa"ngha as a Bhikkhu by the Buddha
himself during his second visit to Raajag.rha. Bhallika attained Arhatship, and some
Gaathaas are there in the Theragaathaa after his name. Balkh or Bhalikaa became an
important centre of Buddhism since then and with the passage of time its importance grew
so much that it was called "Little Raajag.rha" by the people when
Hiuen-tsang visited his place during 7th century A.D. Hiuen-tsang mentions the name
vihaara called "Nava-vihaara" which was located outside the town. The
name "Nava-vihaara" itself suggests the existence of an old vihaara in
Balkh which was no more when Hieun-tsang came there. We may presume, the old vihaara was
probably none other than the Bhallika-vihaara which crumbled in course of time for being
built of perishable material and after that a new vihaara was erected outside the town and
hence called "Nava-vihaara".
As a matter of fact Buddhism as religion spread in Afghanistan only
after, the Second Buddhist Council held at Vesaalii, a century after the
Mahaaparinibbaana of the Buddha through the Mahaasaa"mghika monks who after being
separated from the Early Theravaada or Paali-Theravaada arrived at Udyaana or U.d.diyaana,
the easternmost part of this country. They established their strongholds there. It is said
that another group of this school remained in India and settled at Mathuraa; but regular
contacts were retained between these two groups for several centuries after, as it is
evident by some epigraphs found at Mathuraa of about lst century A.D. Udyaana or
U.d.diyaana remained as a great centre of Later Theravaada or Sanskrit Theravaada schools
of Buddhism almost throughout the whole history of Buddhism in Afghanistan till its
disappearance in about 10th century A.D. There is no doubt that Udyaana was the earliest
centre of the Mahaasaa"mghika school of Buddhism, so also it developed as a great
centre of Sarvaastivaada school from the very beginning of its existence.
The country of Udyaana or U.d.diyaana had two parts. The western area
was also known as Nagara or Nagarahaara (Nagaravihaara) while the eastern retained its old
name as Udyaana. This fact is evident by the accounts given by Fa-hien and Hiuen-tsang and
also by the Tibetan records. The eastern part extended up to the western bank of the Indus
beyond which lay the country of Gandhaara. The Mahaasaa"mghikas and so also the
Sarvaastivaadins established their centres side by side in both the regions of this
country, in Nagarahaara and so also in Swat valley. The head-quarters of the country was
also called by the same name Nagara of Nagarahaara (or Nagaravihaara) or Udyaanapura.
Nagar or Nagarahaara is a derivative from the term Nagaravihaara which I have discussed
elsewhere. But there is no doubt that Nagarahara was one of the most famous Buddhist
places in Afghanistan from the very early days. It is interesting to note that even today
the province of this area is designated as Ningarahaara following the ancient name
although the present capital of the province is called Jalalabad, as it was renamed by
Jalaluddin Akbar, the Great Mughal Emperor of India after his own name. If one visits
Jalalabad, innumerable antiquities in forms of stuupas, caves, ruined monasteries,temples,
icons, etc. are to be seen scattered in and around this town. A place called Hadda about 7
km south of Jalalabad is abound in brick and stone stuupas and temples. The French
Archaeologists have numbered as many as forty large stuupas standing in an area over a
mile and half. This place was visited by almost all the pilgrims coming to this area since
here was enshrined the skull relic of the Buddha. Fa-hien and Hiuen-tsang both paid visits
to this place in order to worship this relic of the Buddha. A casket containing the relic
of the Buddha with an inscription over it was discovered from this place. 
Nagarahaara remained as great a Sarvaastivaadins as it was of the
Mahaasaa"mghikas. During the time of the Great Ku.saa.na Emperor Kani.ska in the 1st
century. Nabarahaara wielded much religious and cultural significance on account of a
number of sacred relics deposited there is stuupas and also of many temples and
monasteries. From place near Jalalabad town called Bimrana a vase containing the sacred
relics of the Buddha with an inscription over it were discovered. It mentions the name of
Emperor Kani.ska as "the holder of principal merit" of this pious deed. It is
well known fact that Kani.ska was a great patron of Buddhism, particularly of the
Sarvaastivaadin school. Probably during his rule and other places around the present town
of Jalalabad were grown as the centres of school.
We may mention in this context the famous Lion capital Kharo.s.thii
script and the Praakrit language. The inscription is not dated but scholars have ascribed
it to c. 10-25 A.D . This inscription refers to a Bikkhu Buddhila by name who is said
to have hailed from Nagara. He is also described as the follower of the Sarvaativaadin
school of Buddhism. In this very inscription, the name of a country Sakastan (i.e.
Seistan) is also mentioned, and the gift of the relics of the Buddha is said to have been
bestowed in or honour of "the whole Sakastan". The country of Sakastan is none
other than the modern Seistain, somes parts of which is presently under Afghanistan and
some under Iranian territory, although originally it was an integral part of Baluchistan
in early days. It is interesting here to mention that some inscribed postherds were
discovered by Sir Aurel Stein from a village called Tor Dherai in Baluchistan, the eastern
most part of Kandhar province. On the postherds, when all the pieces joined together it
could possible be read as the gift of the water-hall in the Yola-Miira-Shaahii-Vihaara for
the Order of four quarters, in the acceptance of the Sarvaastivaadin teachers . It thus
transpires that in the area between Jalalabad in the east and Seistan or Sakastan in the
southwest, the Sarvaastivaadins had their centers in a flourishing condition in the first
It may not be out of place to mention some inscriptions of this period
found from the area of Gandhaara, presently Peshawar and adjoining districts in Pakistan
which mention the name of Sarvaastivaada School. Such inscriptions are found from Zedas
, Kurram  and Kaman . We know that Gandhaara was the next eastern neighbouring
country of ancient Udyaana across the Indus river. It appears that the whole area of north
western part of the Indian sub-continent was the dominant stronghold of Sarvaastivaadin
monks. They however got themselves established their center in this area soon after the
Mahaasaa"mghikas. N. Dutta believes that "during the reign of Asoka the
Sarvaastivaadín did not find a congenial place at Paa.taliputra, i.e., Maghadha and
migrated to the North. They founded two centers, one in Kashmira under the leadership of
Madhyaantika and the other as Mathuraa under that of Ven. Upagupta. Madhyaantika was the
direct disciple of Aananda while Upagupta was the disciple of Saa.nvaasii, who was also a
disciple of Aananda. The Sarvaastivaadins can therefore claim Aananda as the Patriarch.
From these places they spread over other Northern parts of Gandhaara, Afghanistan and
When Hiuen-tsang visited Afghanistan he noticed several centres of this
school at places like Balkh, near Bamiyan, Kapisa, Gaz and Udyaana. He mentions that in a
monastery some 10 or 12 li from Bamiyan, the Sa"nghaa.tii of
Sanakavaasa in nine stripes, of a dark-red colour made of cloth woven from the fibre of Saa.naka
plant was deposited . There Sanakavaasa is mentioned in the Paali texts as Sambhuuta
Saa.navaasii who played a very important role in the Second Buddhist council . He is
said to have gone to Kipin, a place identified with Kapisa, modern Begram near Charikar in
Afghanistan from where a lot of antiquities have been excavated by the French
Archaeologists including the palace and some monasteries. Sa.navaasii stayed there for
some time but later he returned to Mathuraa where he died.
Hiuen-tsang before reaching Balkh visited Kuci in Central Asia where he
found ten monasteries with above 1000 monks, all adherents of Sarvaasstivaada. When he
arrived at Balkh, he found there some one hundred monasteries with more than 8,000 monks
all belonging to "Small Vehicle". He however does not exactly mention the names
of the schools of these Hiinayanii monks residing there; but very likely some of the
monasteries might gave belonged to Sarvaastivaadin monks. From Balkh he went to a place
called Kie (ka)chih (modern Gaz or Darah) some 100 Li to the south of Balkh
where he found ten monasteries with 800 brethren all attached to Sarvaastivaadin school.
 It appears that Balkh or ancient Balhiika was a great centre of Later Theravaada
schools of Buddhism including Sarvaastivaada.
When Hiuen-tsang arrives at Kapisa, he stays in a vihaara built by Han
dynasty of China. He spent his Vassaavaasa there. He mentions the names of some important
learned monks with whom he held several philosophical and doctrinal discussions. He says,
"in that temple (of Sha-lo-kia=Shotorak) there was a Doctor of Three Pi.takas
called Manoj~agho.sa and Sa-pa-to, Ali-ye-fa-mo (i.e., Aaryava"msa) of the
Sarvaastivaadin school and also a priest of Mi-sga-seh (Mahiisaasaka) school
named Ku-na po-to (Gu.nabhadra). These priests were reputed as chiefs in the
convent. We all know that Kapisa was of the western capitals of Kani.ska and the
monastery at Shotorak where Hiuen-tsang stayed was built by him for Chinese Princes
hostage of Han dynasty. It is pragmatic to presume that on account of patronage of
Kanis.ka to Sarvaastivaada school, this monastery flourished as a center of it for several
centuries where learned monks used to reside.
Fa-hsien did not visit many places in Afghanistan. He however came only
to Hadda and Nagarahaara in order to worship the sacred relics there. At Hadda he found
some 500 monks residing in the monasteries and they all belonged to Hiinayaana . He
also mentions about a monastery in the Swat Valley in Udyaana where the monks although
belonging to Mahaayaana school followed the Vinaya of Hiinayaana school including
Sarvaastivaadins. It is evident from his account that the monks belonging to both the
branches of Buddhism, Mahaayaana and Hiinayaana were residing in different monasteries of
Udyaana, including Sarvaastivaadins in 5th century A. D. But probably in Nagarahaara,
Hadda and some other places in this area some monasteries belonging to Sarvaastivaadins
were flourishing during this period.
When we make a survey of Buddhism in Afghanistan, it is conspicuous to
observe that to observe that by and large the schools belonging to Later Theravaada were
predominant throughout the ages. Mahaayanaa Buddhism probably could not prosper so well;
and so also the Early Theravaada Buddhism could not take its root in this land although a
special mission led by Ven. Mahaarakkhita was dispatched to this country after the Third
Council held during the time of Asoka. Among the Later Theravaada schools, the
Mahaasaa"mghika and the Sarvaastivaadins held upper hand in the country. The history
of Buddhism in Afghanistan is still in obscurity; but the abundance of Buddhist
antiquities scattered throughout the length and the breadth the country speak themselves
about the affluence of great religion, some of them are of utmost importance like that of
the huge images of Lord Buddha of Bamiyan and excellent pieces of icons of Greaco Indian
Art at Hadda. They still tell the story of pristine glorious events of this great land of
This article was original published in Buddhist Studies, a
Research Journal of the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi, Delhi, vol.
XV. March, 1991.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
 Konow, Stein, C.I.I.., vol. II. P. 157-158.
 Ibid, p. 50 ff.
 Sircar, D.C., Select Inscriptions, p. 112; Konow, Stein,
C.I.I., Vol. II, p. 48.
 C,I.I, Vol. II, p. 176.
 Ibid, p.145.
 Ibid, p. 155.
 Luders list, No. 918 - 919.
 Dutt, N., Buddhist Sects in India. P. 140.
 Watters, T., On the Travel of Yuan Chwang, p. 120.
 Cf. Malalasekera, G.P., Dictionary of Pali Proper Names,
Vol. II, p. 1063.
 Cf. Watters, T., op.cit. p. 121.
 Ibid, p.108.
 Watters, T., On the Travel of Yuan Chwang, p. 114; beal,
S., Records of Buddhist Kingdoms, p. 49; beal, S, Life of Hiuen-tsang, p. 54.
 Beal, S. , Life of Hiuen-tsang, p. 56.
 Legge, J., Travels of Fa-hien, pp. 28-29.